A Travellerspoint blog

Rio, Brazil

sunny 36 °C

Ah Rio! The land of the naked people!!

OK, so the "tourist attractions" in Rio really are amazing. The Sugar loaf, two enormous Granite peaks jutting up into the sky line, provide the most incredible views of the city. And from above I would say it is one of, if not the most, beautiful views I've ever seen. The setting is ridiculous; mountains, beach and all things city, i.e. high rises, traffic, millions of people in an extraordinarily small space - from above it is in-cred-iiible. By day you can see many of the cities Favelas, the slum areas, stuck on the hillsides like crumpled post it notes. They are all through out the city but always on higher ground. Some of them have micro populations of more than 25,000 but to look at the from afar they look like they might just blow away. By night these areas, unlit, disappear into the darkness leaving only the spectacle of Rios lights. A truly magnificent sight, although a little disturbing to watch half the population slip into blackness. When I see places from above I always image what is going on down there, in Rio I found it all quite upsetting. I found the city to be really paradoxical. On one hand it is breathtakingly beautiful but at the same time horribly ugly. Absolutely amazing but equally shocking. This goes for a lot of the people too; ugly beautiful and beautifully ugly. I guess it is better to go back to ground level to explain my self.

So we were staying in Impanema, near the beach. Now, there is no smoke without fire and the roots of the reputation of Brazilian women can be seen to be burning bright here. Obviously they are not all stunners, but it is safe to say that when they are aesthetically blessed in Brazil it is beyond ridiculous how gorgeous they are. In a desperate attempt to match up to their female counterparts the men make themselves quite an eyeful as well. Think QVC shopping channel - Absolute Ab Increase - Feel the burn Fat burner - Muscle men in Lycra. This, it seems, is the aspiration of the Rio Male, basically beeeefcake. So Impanema is basically a parade of the beautiful, and desperately wannabe people. There is very obviously a lot of plastic surgery, apparently bum implants are overtaking breast implants. Don't get me wrong it is amazing to see, but a plastic barbie world.

Generally speaking, regardless of age, shape or physical condition if you are female you wear a thong bikini and if you are a man you wear speedo's. Now as Rio is unique in that it is a city on the beach, the beachwear spreads throughout the whole city so there are men in ONLY speedo's and flip flops literally every where you look. In banks, supermarkets, markets, buses. You name it, there are speedos out in full force. And what I really mean by that is man bits jiggling around everywhere you look. Not, in anyway, pleasant. A lot of Errrrr, oh God, don't know where to look, oh no he saw me looking, but I didn't want to be looking, now he's smiling, and I'm cringing, look the other way, OH GOD! it's happened again and so on and so forth. They love it. It is hilarious but honestly, some decency please!! Shows how bloody British we ae doesn't it! In truth it is really liberating, and a nice quirk to their culture. I mean if you take beachwear out of the conext of the beach what it really is is waterproof inderwear. Can you imagine nearly everyone walking around Holborn in their underwear? If you think about it long enough it is quite nioce that people aren't set on disguising all their lumps and bumps and if your blessed with a beautuful body well ...
There is also an element of phsyical apreciation. It is not just westerns but the men are very vocal about these things which

Much to my horror, Claire actuallly chased a pair of red speedos down the street for photographic eveidence. She, not being the most subtle, got caught and so we had to resort to sneaky pics on the beach. The colour co-ordination displayed by the Rio gay male is some really spectacular. Turqiose flip flops, turqiose speedoes and a delightful turquoise scarf wrapped .... Oscar Wilde ....

What else? Shops. Shops and the beach, which is odd. Despite how beautiful it is, it feels so weird to have a beach in the city - it doesn't seem real. A faux beach to match the faux people. So this is Impanema, how we found it, and Copa-Copa-cabana is pretty much the same, although a little more 1970's degrading grandeur.

Without getting into facts and figures Brazil has an enormous population most of which is on the coast (except all the rich political criminals living in Brasilia). 40% of the population are living under the poverty line. What is so shocking about Rio is that the impoverished live right on top of the ridiculously rich. The Favelas are a stones throw from the 5* Hotels and the luxury apartments. So the same expensive-shop lined streets are being walked by sparkly high heels, also the dirty shoeless feet of the hundreds of people with out a penny to their names, not to mention the unwitting ipod-camera-cash clad travellers. I wont go on, but it is not hard to see why Rio has the crime rate that it does. You throw people with far far too much in the same bowl as people who have absolutely nothing and some people are going to get robbed. In fact, most people get robbed. Although this doesn't discourage people, not at all. Rio has got it's die hard fans. I guess people are accepting of the crime as it is so overtly obvious why it happens. I thanked my lucky stars when we crossed the boarder to Argentina with all of our things.

So Rio as a tourist ....

The Christ Redeemer is very cool. It is such an iconic image. Often with these things you have seen so many pictures of attractions that it kind takes something away from seeing it yourself. But it really is so impressive. It again gives you incredible views of the city and the statue it's self is really cool. It is an Art Deco statue, I think the largest in the world, and to me it doesn't have the creepiness of a half dead man hanging off a cross. It is, simple, beautiful smooth and awesome and it a warm feeling in you that you cant quite explain.

As Kathryn will tell you, we spent the carnival in Floranopolis which is like playschool compared to Rio. I can't even begin to imagine what it would have been like being there the week before. We went out to Lapa, which is a really old neighbourhood in which they were still very much celebrating the Carnival. It was all a bit too much. The Caprinia's are ridiculously strong, making you feel a little disarmed after just one. The streets are jam packed. I'll say it again, JAM PACKET. You cant move. The men grab at you and are constantly trying to get a trophy kiss, even if it is by force, off of a Western girl. It is relentless and it doesn't matter how many street corners you turn you can not get into some breathing space, for at least a square mile. By 3 am we'd had enough and piled in a taxi home. That said, the Carnival culture is amazing, the whole thing is based on fantasy hence the wild costumes and it is all about the street parties; drums, samba, caeporia, and cocktails but going to Lapa is like going right into the mush pit of a good gig with no escape. An experience for sure but too intense for the likes of me n Lil' Claire.

The extremeity of the classes permentates every aspect of the city and the nihgt life is no different ....

Rio, is obviously famous for it's nightlife but to be honest we wouldn't really know. Other than not really being in the mood for it, cosmopolitan clubbing is not really our thang anyway. Dancing with sand between the toes and sunrise go together, not 50 quid entry and 10 p/drink. Frankly, our budget couldn't afford it and we can do that in London.

I think thats it! We had whizzed around a bit whilst Kathryn was with us so we took some time in Rio to breath, catch up on our blog, load some piccies and prepare for our mammoth journey down to the End of The World. Oh and we finally caught up with Lucy even though it was only for a night!!

Posted by Peacocks 15:52 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Sao Paulo to Rio, Brazil (LP)

White sand, buzzing jungles and pay p/kilo food.

40 °C

So it's my turn again and I have to confess I am no longer in Brazil. I did, however, scribble down some thoughts whilst I was and I'm going to put them in as I found them;

Roughly 15 March 2009

A usual occurrence; it's early and I am sitting outside my room, writing. I'm surrounded by normal things; paper, pencil case, water bottle, bikini drying but, what is really surreal is that I am in jungle in Brazil. If I look to my left, I can see Claire dozing back to sleep in our little wooden room looking like a princess tented under a huge white mosquito net. It is 7am and I, of course, am awake and keeping one eye on the breakfast area for my first shot of coffee. Keeping me company is a little green hummingbird about 3 inches tall that keeps coming for his breakfast from the illuminous orange and hot pink flower right next to me. A good choice I think. The insects hum and click and I can hear the two lovely owners, jewelery and yoga fanatics, chatting to their guests in any one of about 5 languages that they appear to be fluent in as they get breakfast ready. And now i'm wondering if toady's breakfast beat yesterdays banana muffins? and then I wonder how much of this, the finer details, am I going to remember in a month, a year, 10 years? So I'm taking note, I hope you don't mind.IMG_3651.jpg

Anyway, So Brazil has been different for us. It is incredibly beautiful. In terms of postcard-beauty, vibrancy of colours etc it is probably the most beautiful country in South America, but it is both of our least favorite place. Why? Well, we are now a man down as our little Cous-pot has gone, it is unbelievably EXPENSIVE and the language thing is a BIG problem. Although we're not exactly fluent in Spanish, (cough) coming here and realising that we can not communicate verbally with these people at all is frustrating and often embarrassing. Terrible really, but not wanting to fill our heads with Portuguese, (my school French springing from my subconscious unannounced is causing me enough problems when attempting Espanol as it is) we are both really keen to get back to a Spanish speaking country, to carry on our learning, but also because travelling is such a different experience when you can't communicate.

We have spent a lot of time just the two of us recently which has been lovely. Where we are now is wonderful, Trinidad a little coastal hippy town. More our scene than a big city, but I think part of what is so refreshing is that it is just us and a few other travellers chilling out and gathering ourselves, this is commonly referred to as the 'Carnival Hangover'...

At this point it trails off, I obviously went for breakfast. The banana muffins, it turns out, were a one off treat.
So back to the here and now, which is Buenos Aires a month on, looking back at what things spring to mind, i'll do my best to paraphrase.

Isla Grande; Big, beautiful island, in between Rio and Sao Paulo. Mostly jungle and white sandy beaches, looks a lot like Thailand for those who know it; a perfect tourist Island. You couldn't want for anything else. Little shops, quaint restaurants, beautiful beaches, secluded beaches, tranquil bays, surfing beaches, long walks, lovely people, two kinds of monkeys!! In all honesty, don't shoot us, we found it all a bit too perfect, maybe becuase it is suited to the older traveller or those on a short break. That's not to say we didn't enjoy it, it was lovely. It rained quite a bit when we were there but had some sunny spells. We walked a couple of hours through the jungle to a beach completely exposed to the brutality of the Atlantic. The waves are ridiculous, you can hardly stand up and weirdly it drags you sideways along the beach. Anyway, the result of millions of years of this is that sand is so fine that it squeaks under your feet, just like really really fine fresh snow (I want to say bicarbonate of soda, it is the cook in me coming out)
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Trinidad; a local bus ride away from Isla Grande. Interesting as ever getting through the Chessington-World-of-Adventures style turn styles to get on the bus with back packs and all the other shit Claire and I always seem to be carrying. It is on the main land and is again very beautiful, little green islands dot all over the horizon, most uninhabited. Trinidad is of the hippy vein; sandy streets, artisans, surfers, beach restaurants although we were out of season and it was very quite. It suited us though. We did jungle walks, messed around on the beach and drank wine on our balcony. We stayed in the Jungle which was amazing and different to anywhere we've stayed before but the humidity was stifling. All your clothes were constantly damp and already having had our fair share of electronic disasters, we loved it but three nights was enough and we left with our fingers crossed that nothing was damaged. I wrote the above whilst there. IMG_3592.jpgIMG_3444.jpgDSC01739.jpgIMG_3500.jpg

Paraty; Colonial fishing town, meant to be amazing when the streets flood which is quite often. Everything has at least a foot step up to because of it. We didn't see it flood but it rained a lot. Nice hostel, really pretty architecture with a canal. All very "nice". We only stayed a night in the end, with the changing weather in Patagonia always on our minds, we rushed on through, not beofre Claire stocked up on her beloved Cashasha ... it is after all the home to Capharianas. We also randomly bumped into Chris in the que for the toilet in a bar. This travelling world is very small! IMG_3682.jpgIMG_3688.jpg

Sao Paulo; All we really know of Sao Paulo is the bus terminal as we collectively spent at least 24 solid hours there. The city is HUGE. It has has a population of 12 million, and including suburbs spans the length of England. It is the wealthiest city in Brazil; it has 700 helicopter landing pads because the wealthy got tired of being robbed on the roads!!! It does feel "a little" dangerous in parts, you have to watch your self. We went to the Japanese market for sushi. Sao Paulo has the largest Japanese population out side of Japan - really weird to hear Japanese people speaking in Spanish: I don't know why, but it is. The streets are filled with beggars and there are people practicing coeperiera in the parks with drunks cheering them on and trying to join in. Really sad. Buses fine. Fine, fine, fine.

And I think that's it. I feel like I may have been a little negative about Brazil. Looking back it was a wonderful experience and I didn't not enjoy any of it and really did enjoy a lot of it. But you cant love everywhere, "it wouldn't do for us all to be the same" as Little Nanny Lavender would have said. Everyone has their own experiences, so many people we've met absolutely loved Brazil and there are also some that have felt the same way as us.

One thing I will say is Brazil doesn't do anything by half. When the sun shines it is blinding and when it rains you almost drown. It is a wonderfully vibrant place full of colour. The culture is soulful, outdoors, musical, with fried foods, sweet cocktails, flesh, sex and everything else that springs to mind when you think of Brazil. However, in the south, which is where we were, it seems to have been heavily diluted by modernity and tourism. I understand that the north is really the place to go for cultural Brazil. Maybe one day? Oh and we didn't go into the Amazon, or the Pantanals so really we only saw a tiny little snippet. My insatiable desire to tread the earth will no doubt take me back one day to explore the rest.

LP

Posted by Peacocks 11:19 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Mendoza, Argentina

(CP) Just a flying visit for now.....

sunny 25 °C

Any indication on our part that the bus journeys are a hardship, if I'm honest, have been mostly an exaggerated attempt to convey that travelling isn't always easy and does get tiring constantly being on the move but, truth be told, the buses have been fine. Its fair to say the Colombians drive too fast, which was a little hell raising at times, but all in all we've enjoyed them; comfy seats, movies (if the TV works) and time to yourself with no choice but to do nothing. That is until our overnight bus to Argentina! Bearing in mind we were leaving Chile, one of the most developed countries in Sur America, with Peru, Ecuador and Columbia behind us, we presumed they would only get better, but unfortunately not.
The border crossing was a nightmare. Having left Santiago in the heat, we hadn't accounted for crossing the Andes and how cold it gets at night. Three hours in and we have all settled into our seats and drifted off for the night, or so we thought. Midnight and the bus comes to a stop, we're at the border, all off the bus, queueing behind 4 other bus loads of people in transit, the most people we've encountered at any border crossing, let alone, the middle of the night!?! So we wait, we get stamped, we get back on the bus, wait some more until we finally drift off to sleep again. Not for long, 2 hours later we're off the bus again, having been stationary the whole time, and this time we are queuing for an entrance stamp... 10 yards from where we queued 2 hours ago. Following this, ALL the bags are taken off the bus and checked thoroughly. Efficient, yes, but i couldn't have cared a less at 3 am in the morning standing in the freezing cold. We set off again 4 hours later, enough for a quick snooze before arriving in Mendoza.
Mendoza is a calm, Oasis town in the Cuyo desert of Argentina and their main wine region. No surprises why it was on our agenda. Still, whatever they say about Argentina, great nightlife, parties till dawn were not for us on arrival, we checked into our hostel, gave five minutes to catch up with some fellow travellers we had met along the way and then we crashed.
The following day we had the tour of the vineyards, it was good, but a little stingy on the wine if you ask me, Mendoza Malbec is their main export but, not pretending to be a connoisseur, ill stick with the Merlot. This was followed by a visit to an olive farm.. wine, olives, sun dried tomatoes, balsamic vinegar. Heaven, oh memories of a far of land.

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Which leads me onto the food. Argentina, as everyone knows is all about the beef. Seeing as Laura and I are verging on Veggie's, we haven't yet sampled it. Kathryn did and it was delicious. Other than that the supermarkets are fully stocked like home. Only thing is, vegetables are expensive and so we're struggling. The other problem is on ever corner there is someone selling pastries of every kind you can imagine. Empanadas, as I'm sure we've mentioned before, as they are South America's signature food, Ham & Cheese toasties.. EVERYWHERE and dulce de Leche, a caramel like spread that they have on everything. I'm scared for myself. Breakfast is included with the hostels and so there is no escaping it, how can you refuse something delicious if its free. H E L P! And so i ask a local Argentine how come the women are so slim. She states, of course, they don't eat. What they do do, like all argentines, is drink a lot of Mate. A herbal tea that they carry round with them all day in flasks, Seems peculiar at first, but you soon get used to it and i understand now that it is part of their culture. Its a social past time, which i really like. You walk down the street and pass a park bench with 2 or 3 friends sitting there having a drink. Whoever's mate it is, pours boiling water into a cup with the leaves and you then sip it through a metal straw. It has a bitter taste but you get used to it and its like a caffeine fix. Oh, because they don't really drink coffee. It was the one thing we found really hard to buy in the supermarket. They'd only have one brand and it would be the filtered kind, a problem when you don't happen to be travelling with a percolator.

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So, I've digressed. Back to our time in Mendoza. Although we we're only there for a few days, we had a chance to have a wee walk about and the towns really cosmopolitan. Everything is very orderly. The streets are wide and tree lined. It felt to me, like an American suburb. People we're friendly and the weather was sunny and mild but not too hot, altogether very nice.

As its nestled in the Andes it is also well known for its outdoor activities, hiking, rock climbing, biking, and rafting. Laura and her recently mended broken wrist, was limited to what she could do so we opted for rafting, full moon rafting in fact. So that night, 9pm, we get picked up in 'the fun bus' as we shall remember it. Seems like a standard 10 seater bus until we set off and on came the flashing red lights and pumping tunes from the sub in the back. This was all very amusing until we are half way through our 3 hour journey up the mountain when we get a blow out! I'm pretty sure we surfed the road on the alloy for a while before the driver realised. I wont bore you with the waiting and repairing but lets leave it with the image of 'the not so fun bus' for the rest of the journey. No music or lights.

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The actual rafting was a bit of a disappointment, it was more like a float downstream than white water rafting. Still, all thing considered safety first i guess, it was 1am before we got on the water so better than a grade 5 in the darkness. The best part of the night was the full moon party afterwards with a huge bonfire in the most amazing settings. Only two choices at the bar though, beer or Fernet, a 45% alcohol, traditional drink. We tried the spirit, revolting, Ethnol, no, worse than that. Indescribable. I think it was a joke. Anyway, after that we stuck to beer.
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With Kathryn with us and our agendas once again packed, the following night we were back on the buses and heading for Igazu falls. (This time a lovely, lovely bus, thank goodness). 14 hours later and we arrived in Puerto Iguazu. Funny little town, with nothing to do apart from the falls, so next day we were up early and ready for the tour. Well Kathryn was ready, as always, and Laura and I we're flapping about. We made the bus and we're all in eager anticipation of 'one of the planets most awe-inspiring sights'. Unfortunately it was overcast when we arrived at the park but with a packed tour in store, we thought little of it. That is until we headed to the first view point. Everybody passing in the opposite direction was wet. hmmm? not until we got a little closer did we realise why... there was a massive storm passing over and the sprays from the waterfall we're so strong they absolutely drenched us!
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Amazing, Amazing sight, the power and the noise of the waterfalls are tremendous and also a very, very funny day. The three of us were completely unprepared. Fisherman pants, vests and sunnies whilst the rest of the parks visitors were in rain coats, waterproofs and umbrellas. After an hour we were too wet and cold to do the boat and 4x4 trip so we headed back to the hostel, luckily getting away with not having to pay for the tour.
The waterfalls are on the border of Argentina and Brazil. It is recommended to see the falls from both sides as they offer such different views. With the Brazilian tour booked for the following day we made sure this time we were fully prepared for the weather conditions. Not a chance our day would be cut short again.
Needless to say, the next day was a scorcher. Not only were the waterfalls spectacular but where the sun hits the water there are the most amazing rainbows.

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You follow a circuit to each view point through the national park where we saw the most beautiful giant blue butterflies and also lots and lots of spiders webs with different species of spiders, including 4 torachalors being shooed away by park rangers. Laura's living hell, as you can imagine.
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As we had gone to all the trouble of kitting ourselves out in preparation for rain we decided a photo was in order, much to the amusement of other visitors.

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This was also an opportunity to hop over into Brazil, exciting. a new country, even if it was only for a few hours. Only real comment i can give is that they speak Portuguese, of course. Well that really was a shock to the system. We couldn't understand a word! It was embarrassing as we muddled through with the Spanish we know but also an eye opener into how hard it is to travel if you can speak the language. That's not to say we are in any way good a Spanish, YET, but we can get by and are improving all the time.
After the 2nd day at the falls we booked another bus for that night. 4 out of 6 nights on buses.. not bad going. Destination was Uruguay. How we got there was a little unplanned......
As for Argentina, what we've seen so far we've loved. In only two stops, one week, we have gone from the chilly Andes to the tropical rainforrest of the north. The country is vast and we look forward to our return.

Posted by Peacocks 09:34 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Santiago and The Road Trip

Back to the Future

sunny 29 °C

So we are still a little behind I admit, so I’m going to bring us up to speed rapido!!

The boarder crossing was, in more ways than one, like a scene from Back to the Future. Firstly we were woken up from a motion-induced-bus-slumber in this Wild West town on the boarder of Peru, rushed off the bus and escorted from one gated bus terminal to another surrounded by bus workers as we got ready to get a taxi across to Chile. Strictly instructed not to speak to anyone as they are apparently ALL con artists

A little bewildered by having the bus driver haggle the price of our taxi for us and guard us in a circle, we piled into the back of a very 1980’s maroon square-edged car. The driver and two fully grown men piled in the front. It was close to 40 degrees. The boarder crossing is just a straight road through the desert, so we went 'quite fast' with an enormous dust cloud trailing behind us, the windows wide open, not being to see anything but miles and miles of sand and the mirage of the heat rising off of it. We didn’t vanish into a porthole, as apt as it would have been, but we might have well of done. After a couple of none remarkable exit / entry stamps, with the usual palaver that goes with it, we arrived in Arica, Chile.

Gone are the indigenous people of Peru, pokey little corner shops selling the bare essentials (avocados and bread), street vendors with all kinds of battery powered tack laid out in front of them, the smell of Empanadas wafting on every street corner, little box taxis ready for the scrap yard flying around like there on a go cart course, dogs and children constantly running under your feet, all in the setting of old cobbled streets and colonial architecture. (I might not make it sound that charming, but in its own way, it really is)

So, within a twenty minute drive this was all exchanged for it’s polar opposite. Fast food joints, paved streets, high street shops, fully stocked pharmacies and super markets, saloon taxis with perfect, uniform yellow and back paint work, and a whole set rules and regulations that are abided to. The high street in Arica looks a bit like Redhill, Leatherhead or Liverpool with the standard red arched sign bearing the name of the town. It was so familiar to what we know but so alien to where we’d just come from. Same same, but different.

Every one looked clean, the return of fashion in place of practicality and affordability. People are polite, no one pushes you out the way or tries to insist that you need a pink bracelet and that it looks really ‘Linnnda’ on you. What’s crazy is that despite Peru sounding like a hectic nightmare, immediately I started to miss the rawness of it and Ecuador and Colombia alike.

You set foot in Chile and you could be in numerous places in Europe, it is really like Spain. We had to quickly accept that this is a different South America, but South America none the less and we had to accept and enjoy it for what it is. A little trip out of town, as advised by our lovely hostel owner and his equally lovely wife, and it was abundantly clear we were not in Europe, we were actually in a mountain range of sand dunes, in the driest desert in the world that goes all the way to the lashing Pacific Ocean with ancient hieroglyphics still etched in the side of mountains. Last time I checked, you don’t get that in the Costa del Sol.

We didn’t hang around in Arica, horrified that we had to pay $15 for a room (a bargain by Brazilian standards), we boarded a 40 hr bus to Santiago. Thankfully we hadn’t taken a sleeping tablet as it was in fact only a cool 30 hours so we arrived in Santiago ahead of schedule. Not that we believed the bus drivers. Claire actually poked one of them on the chest, laughed, called him a joker and tried to get back on the bus. It took asking a passer by to get us to remove our bags and accept we didn’t have another 10 hours to settle into and had to try and find a hostel at 11pm. Not the hardest of tasks, but when sitting on your arse is all your expecting to do it’s a bit if a shock. We giggled our way though the ridiculousness of the situation and found our selves in the safety of a nice hostel in a picture perfect area of Santiago; cobbled streets, fountains and beautiful town houses. Glass of wine. We were doing alright.

The owner was incredibly helpful, if not a little mad, with his young Chilean lady friend, both running around the hostel giggling like school children. Generally a really nice environment to gather yourself and plan.

So we decided the most time-efficient and economical way of getting a taste of what was on offer around Santiago was to hire a car and go on a road trip! This was a lot of fun, we had a lot of laughs and made a nice change from buses for a bit, especially as the local radio stations liked to mix it up with a few classics from the likes of Salt N Pepper, Simply Red but to name a few.

Horcon, as stated in ‘The Book’ is a bohemian fishing town with a beach, bars and hippies. It was not. It was a very bizarre little town built into the hillside with an arcade, seagulls, some pebbles and not much else other than a notably mostly male population. However, we found a quirky Swiss style room to stay in with a quirky owner to match. The girls went out for a Basil Mojhito and a trip to the arcade but soon returned for a night of wine on our little decked balcony listening to the crashing sea whilst planning to leave - first thing.

On to Valparaiso, again built into the hillside, with an enormous port filled with fishing boats, huge Ocean Liners, industrial machinery, impressive architecture, big squares, statues, museums, galleries cosmopolitan cafes and imposing glass office buildings. Travel 5 minutes up the hillside and you are submerged in bohemian beauty, cobbled streets, colourful town houses, little quirky health food cafes and the most incredible collection of street art I have ever seen. We landed ourselves in a hostel owned by two local artist with the most beautiful 2 yr old boy and a cool collection of travellers to boot. Here, we wandered the streets in the sunshine, drank Mate Tea in our little court yard, chatted till our hearts content and watched the American Superbowl. Quite an event, apparently. Couple of days later we hit the road again, carrying the luggage of a few new pals who were to meet us in Isla Negra, our next stop.

I completely forgot to mention that we didn’t have a map. You can’t buy them anywhere so we were navigating practically blind with only the abysmal Rough Guide to Chile to help us. We did a surprisingly good job and didn’t actually get lost.

Isla Negra was everything it was meant to be. Sandy, traditional, laid back and beautiful. Driving around trying to find a cottage to rent we stopped outside an enormous ship perched in the middle of a residential area more than 500 meters from the sea. It had a mast, deck, female figure on the front etc. It is was fascinatingly cool and we obviously wanted to find out if we could rent it. No one home, unlikely anyway, just as we were about to drive off, a cave man wearing no shoes and dragging a large branch sauntered down the road and took the partial tree into the house. Of course, it was his house and not for rent but he showed us around anyway. He had built the whole thing from scratch and it was a ship, down to the last detail. Portholes, bottles built into the walls, rigging -the whole shbang!! He then, very kindly, insisted in helping us find somewhere else to stay.

We rented a miniature 2 bed cottage between six of us, caught a stunning sunset on the beach, a night of cooking and wine, and a sit down rave. We visited the home of the eccentric (recurring theme) Paulo Neubra, Chile’s most famous poet and winner of the noble peace prize and got on our merry way back to Santiago, still map-less. Easy peasy.

The next day wasn’t quite so successful as we tried to navigate out of Santiago onto some obscure
B Road in search of natural hot springs high in the mountains that was not in our guide book. I wont go into it, but after 9 hours of driving we arrived back to Santiago, after encountering 'a little fuel issue', having not dipped a toe into a hot spring. We still had lots of fun, saw some incredible snow capped mountains, the right mountains too, on the right road and a lot of goats.

The car was returned and we spent some time in Santiago, visited an exhibition, sat in a park, got ripped off by a tramp, ate in a sushi restaurant and other such things cosmopolitan things before boarding another twenty something hour bus to Mendoza in Argentina.

Chile wasn’t a cultural shock or somewhere that we fell in love with but we didn’t expect it to be. What it is, is incredibly beautiful, clean, well maintained, safe and full of extremely accommodating and interesting characters that will help you, like most Latin Americans, wanting absolutely nothing in return. People often say that Chile is not real South America. I disagree with this. Yes it is expensive, even to our European standards, and it is different to the northern South American countries but I don’t think it should be discredited because of this. A country once ravaged, like so many others, by the USA, is now one of progression, development and growing economic strength. The people have got the same good nature and inherent Latino warmth mixed in with an abundance of the arts and modernity. Aside from this, I think it maybe one of the most naturally beautiful and diverse landscapes you can hope to find, I am yet to see the best of it. I’m now sitting in a hostel in Brazil (my next blog instalment so I will be with you again soon) and we are heading back towards Chile through Argentina to see Patagonia and I genuinely can not wait to get there.

Besos

LP

Posted by Peacocks 12:38 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Arequipa, Peru

(KG)

sunny 28 °C

After another day of relaxing we decided to move on and head further South to the amazing Nasca Lines. The lines date back to 2000 years ago. As some of you my know, Laura is not a happy bunny in planes. The look on her face when she saw the 4 seater Cesna that we would be flying in was priceless. Claire and I however, couldn´t contain our glee! We took off and had a great 30 minutes (or in Laura´s case, the longest 30 minutes of her life) viewing the spectacular hyrogliphics.

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We then ventured on a trip to the Colca Canyon. This canyon is twice the depth of the Grand Canyon, and the second deepest in the world. We climbed down it. And out again. Once again the mantra ´´think of the thighs´´ came in very useful. The trip started at 3.30am ouside our hostel where we were introduced to our Peruvian guide Roy (no joke). Think 23 and very fit, and as we found out later had been out drinking with friends and hadn´t been to bed. The coach journey allowed us a 3 hour kip, with Roy unnecessarily waking us up every hour. We started trekking, and made it down the canyon in a respectable 8 hours. We were allowed a 20 minute break for a hearty lunch of Alpacca stew (yum). Our bed for the night was a bamboo and straw bed in a bamboo hut in an oasis without electricity. It could have been the Hilton we were so happy to see it. The reformed London gilrs were in bed by 8.30pm.

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The next morning Roy allowed us a lay-in and woke us up at 4.30am. Yes, really. Without coffee or even breakfast. For another 6 hours of hiking. Up. Despite the pain in the legs, the views were amazing and the sense of achievement was even better. The three of us ate like horses when we reached the top.

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A day later we found ourselves in Arequipa, Peru's second largest city, rocked by earhquakes and volcanic eruptions since the Spannish arrived in 1540. Arequipa is swamped in history so the tourist attractions were a must but we also mangaed to fit in some time for socailising and met some really interesting people. Ask us about Mama Coco´s when we get back, that´s another story!

So this marks the end of our Peruvian adventure and the start of our Chilean dream.

(KG)

Posted by Peacocks 16:18 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

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