Friday, February 3, 2012

Buenos Aires part 2


Got back to Buenos Aires at about 3pm and decided to try getting the local bus for $1.25 (about 30c) to my hostel. I went and outside and found the bus stop and managed to ask a guy in Spanish which bus to get, where it goes and how long it takes. Yay! Got back to the hostel I stayed in at the very start of my trip. I was even in the same room and same bed!

Later, I took the metro a vegan place, Noble y Natural that sells empanadas. Yay, so excited! Basically it is a vegan takeaway buffet next to the metro station. I filled up my container, grabbed some empanadas and off I went back to the hostel. Yum. It was all so good. I might have to go back tomorrow night.

Then I went up to the bar for beers. Some Dutch girls gave me vodkas cos it was my last night. That's pretty much the extent of my memories. But I appear to be having a good time according to photo evidence on my phone.


I woke up very hungover. Again. Buenos Aires, why do you keep doing this to me??? But I got up and checked out of my bed and headed off to Palermo.


There's lof veggie restaurants in Palermo so checked out La Esquina de las Flores. Unfortunately my appetite was not great so I just had some veggie soup. It was very nice though. And they gave me some wholemeal rolls with some kind of pumpkin or carrot dip. That was really yum.

I headed back to the hostel after and lay on the couch for the rest of the afternoon watching old CSIs. Oh yeah, I'm living the holiday dream!

I decided to go back to Nature y Noble for dinner and stocked up on vegan goodies. I also got some extra empanadas and fruit for the plane since I'm not convinced that Aerolineas will have the vegan meals I requested. It's best have a Plan B.


Now I'm sitting in the bus heading to the airport. I can't believe it's been 6 weeks, it's gone so fast. I've seen some amazing places and I've met some fantastic people. Please come visit me if you're in Oz. Chile was my favourite country. I would totally live there. Plus the men are fit from climbing up mountains and volcanoes all the time. Buenos Aires is an evil temptress who's sole purpose seemed to be to get me drunk and make me as hungover as possible. But it was so much fun I can't complain. Brazil was also a lot of fun and it was great seeing Marcia again. It also had the cleanest street dogs and NYE in Rio was the best ever. Peru had the best ruins and the best juices, I wish I could take a juice lady home with me.

The food has largely been fantastic. Despite all the warnings I was given I ate all kinds of fruit and veg without peeling them and just giving them a good wash. I also drank tap water everywhere except Peru (where I used my steripen) and did not get sick. Either it's all fine, meat is the actual problem, or I have good guts. I have not really struggled to stay vegan at all. In fact it's been pretty easy, but obviously I have happycow to thank for that. The booze is also good and cheap and you can pretty much drink anywhere, especially Brazil, which I like a lot. My Spanish was good enough that I had no problems getting anywhere and I did not really get lost, even when taking scary local buses. I may have got ripped off a couple times, but I did not get robbed. Although I'm pretty sure someone tried rifling through my bag today on the metro. Luckily it was only the front pocket which only had hand sanitizer and my Spanish dictionary in it. Plus I'm pleased to say that despite all the street dogs over here, I did not step in dog shit once. How I avoided that is a bloody miracle.

All the hostels I've stayed in have been great (except Paraty, which was a bit average). Good beds, clean bathrooms, generally good security, fun people to hang out with. And to top my holiday off I saw the best mullet ever on the way to the airport. Some teenage boy with hair at the back nearly down to his arse. I wish I got a photo.

Basically I had a ball and I can't wait to come back. There's still so much more I want to see over here. But, I am looking forward to wearing different clothes when I get home, and not having backpacker hair, which will promptly be taken care of the day after I arrive. I am also looking forward to not sharing a room and sleeping in a bunk bed anymore.

On that note, I will end. I'm really glad I blogged my trip as its a great reminder of all the cool things I did. I don't even really mind that there's so many typos, since I've written the whole thing on my phone. Until my next holiday, thanks for reading.

Adios!

El Calafate


I arrived in el Calafate around 11pm, which was basically a five hour bus ride including an hour for immigration. I got to my hostel late after walking the wrong way. El calafate isn't that big so I wasn't worried about walking around late at night, but what should have been a five minute walk ended up being about 15. Idiot.

The next morning I booked my bus ticket to the Moreno glacier for the afternoon. I had a wander around the town and went down to the lake. My hostel is up the hill and the view is this.


I walked around the town, which is quite pretty. You can tell its set up for the snow and skiing in winter. I imagine its pretty nice if that's your thing.



Tim's fountain.


Watching the street dogs here is interesting. They all run everywhere. They must be too cold to walk.

I found a supermarket and stocked up fruit a tomato and avocado so I could make lunch for this afternoon. Then I went back to the hostel and watched the last half hour of the Aussie Open. I wanted Nadal to win. He didn't.

Then it was time to make my sandwich and head off to the bus station. The bus to the glacier takes about an hour or so. It then drops you off at the boat if you want to take that. Yes please! It's the best way to get to up close to the ice. But not too close cos ice does fall off and can travel a fair few metres. Apparently 32 people have died from falling ice over the past 20 years according to a sign.


This glacier is amazing to look at. I've never seen anything like it. It's very, very cool.



We did get to see some big chunks fall off and that was also very cool. It is really loud and causes quite a wave to form. I can see how tsunamis occur. It really doesn't take much.

After the boat ride finished, the bus picked us up again and took us to the lookout area. This was really cool. The glacier is massive! I think it joins up to some other glaciers up the back and is 30km long. Apparently it is in increasing by 2m a day, which I don't understand since it's summer and bits are falling off in front of you, plus climate change is having a good crack at destroying all glaciers.



Apparently the 90% if the ice is under the water like most icebergs. But the bits you can see are 30-60m high. That is huge! This thing is incredible.




Thankfully they created paths all around the lookout area. Elevated grated paths with ergonomically correct height steps are so much nicer to walk on than dirt and rocks. Plus it stops erosion so good for the environment too. Like las Torres, they tell you to take all your rubbish with you. Once again, people seem to respect this which is good.


The bus took us back to el Calafate at 7.30pm so I had time for a beer and finished book number 4. Hooray. I love having time to read on holidays. Tv gets in the way at home. Thankfully I'm not reading those terrible Twilight books this time. They were so shit. I can't believe I read all of them all in Asia. That's time I'm never getting back.

After getting back to town I headed into the main street for dinner. There is one veggie restaurant here, Casa de te Kau Kaleshen, that I was looking forward to going to but it was shut. Dammit. Not happy, cos it gets some good reviews and its meant to be open today. So I trawled the main street looking for something and found a tourist restaurant with a vegetarian menu and got a lentil veggie salad that wasn't very exciting. If I can make something better then it's not restaurant quality in my opinion. But the wine was good. I haven't had any bad red wine in Chile or Argentina (I did have some shit Peruvian red wine. Best to stick to beers or pisco sours there). The upside of it being fucking freezing down here in Patagonia is it's perfect for drinking reds. I'd better drink up though because tomorrow it's back to Buenos Aires. As much as I have loved Patagonia--it is a beautiful untouched part of the world and I hope it stays this way--this weather is not for me. I'm so glad I don't live in the UK anymore. Patagonia reminds me of shit Aberdeen summers. You can take the girl out of Queensland, but you can't take Queensland out of the girl.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Puerto Natales

I arrived in Puerto Natales around 9pm. This is a pretty small town so finding the hostel is easy. And the hostel was nice and warm which I was very pleased about.

The first thing I did was book my bus ticket to Torres del Paine for tomorrow. Then I had to race up to the supermarket to get some food for tomorrow. Luckily Chile is not like Australia and things stay open a lot later. With tomorrow's activities sorted I went looking for el living, the town's one any only veggie place. It is a fantastic veggie restaurant run by an English family so its really easy to get food that is vegan, gluten free, whatever. They understand them all! The pumpkin soup was delicious. I will be coming back to try the vegan chickpea patties when its not too late at night for a big meal!

The next day got up early for las torres. The bus takes about two hours. Then the shuttle to the park's hotel takes another 20 mins. The guy at the hostel told me that the walk to the lookout would take about fours hours to to get there and four hours back. In total it was 19km. This did not phase me too much, since I've done a half marathon and 20km runs before. I've also walked around all day. Like Santiago for example. Not that I was super happy about having to walk 19km but I was looking forward to las torres.

It turns out this walk taught me something about myself I did not know until today. I pretty much hate hiking. Seriously the volcano was really hard, but you could see the top and tobogganing down was awesome. But here, I had no idea what was ahead of me or how much longer it would take. After three hours of walking mostly up the mountain I was so bored and I just really wanted to get there. And no, there is no bus. If you want to go to the lookout, you have to walk. I was so glad I didn't do the W circuit. And I was glad once again I didn't do the Inca trail at Machu Picchu. The only thing worse than hiking is hiking it with a 10kg backpack and a tent! I'm so glad I'm getting the bus back tonight. Anyway enough bitching about camping and hiking. I did it and got to see some nice stuff along the way. Patagonia is a particularly beautiful part of the world.

 


Towards the end it wasn't even a path anymore, just rocks. Then I got to the lookout, which wasn't really a lookout but more rocks. But that's ok, its about the view. Time for lunch with this lovely view. After taking four hours to get here, I only stayed about 15 minutes cos it was so cold! The weather in this park varies a lot. At the start of the path, I was regretting not wearing shorts cos it was quite warm, then massive winds came along, then some rain and at las torres it was really, really cold and raining. Hence the rubbish photo of las torres.



So I headed back down the mountain. This was easier on one level, but really hard on your knees. I later developed a sort of jogging technique which lessened the jarring and sped up the process. It still took ages though.



On the way back I wanted to drink water from the river cos you can here. The water tasted really nice and pure. No dirt or chemical or plastic bottle taste. This is one of the most unpolluted parts of the world. You must take all your rubbish away with you and everyone does. I didn't see any litter. It's nice that everyone respects the beauty of this park.
 
Got back to the park hotel at about 5pm. The last shuttle to the bus is 7.30pm. Time for a well earned beer me thinks! By now it was so nice to be sitting on comfy couches instead of rocks. And it was warm! I didn't even care that the beer was expensive.

On the way back to Puerto Natales we saw lots of llama looking creatures. I believe there are four similar species including llamas, alpacas and two others. I think this might be one of the others since it looks significantly bigger than the ones I saw in Peru. Or they are llamas and I'm taking complete shite. They just wander around doing whatever. I wonder if they have any natural predators down here, apart from tour buses? I also saw some birds that  look like emus but smaller.

There is evidence of the bushfire that ripped through here engulfing much of the park last month. But nature, unlike people's houses, recovers fast. Already there's lots of green coming up through the ashes. Some trees were already knee height. The park ranger that got on the bus at the start to explain the park rules told us that campers could not light any fires at all. Hope they brought lots of sandwiches and fruit!

After getting back to Puerto Natales I went to el living for some more pumpkin soup. It was just so good. I've also noticed that a lot of the restaurants advertise that their fruit and veg is organic and locally grown. I really like that, especially in such a pristine environment. Let's hope big farming doesn't come in and fuck it all up!

The next morning was a chance to sleep in. So nice. My legs hurt quite a lot today after all the walking up and down mountains over the past couple of days. I walked around the town down to the water.


I like this place (for a few days anyway). It's very quiet and peaceful and full of Germans. It's like mini Deutschland! I've heard more German here than Spanish. Some girl even spoke to me in German yesterday. Unlike me, those Germans all love their hiking so places like this attract lots of them.

Not sure what these guys did. I imagine the one on the left is impressed with the size of right guy's feet. You know what they say.


I'm pretty far south. Although Punta Arenas was more south.


Although the northern hemisphere equivalent is London which doesn't seem the same. Maybe because here is a lot more isolated so you feel like you're nearer to Antarctica compared to London and the Arctic.

They have the fanciest bins I've ever seen here.


I went back to el living for lunch and had the chickpea patties and was very glad I did. It came with a fresh salad and no bread this time. I'm so sick of eating bread everyday, I can't wait to get off it again when I get home.

Given most people go camping from here, there's lots of shops specialising in outdoor stuff including dried fruit and nuts. I bought this selection of apples, bananas and figs. They also had these strawberries. Not sure what they did to them but they are quite sweet like jam. Yum.


I would have bought more but I'll probably have to eat them all today before I cross back into Argentina tonight. Although I think Argentina cares less about food coming across the border than Chile. Chile has some of the strictest quarantine laws I've seen outside of Australia.

I am also a little bit addicted to this fruit and nut mix. I've eaten so many bags since I've been here. Nuts, dried coconut, cranberries and pineapple. It's my go to vegan snack and really good! Better for you than bags of chips.


None of the houses here look really built for the cold. I haven't seen any double glazed windows at all. People must freeze in winter. Brr!



After a nice relaxing day with yummy food, I got the bus at 6pm for el Calafate in Argentina. It look less than half an hour to reach the border. Then it was off the bus, get stamped out of Chile. Get back on the bus and go up to Argentina. Unlike going into Brazil, everyone got off the bus this time and got stamped into Argentina. On to el Calafate!

Punta Arenas

I left Pucon early this morning heading to Temuco. This town was not exciting at all from the bus so I'm glad I did not stay there. Got a cab out to the airport from the bus station, since there's no public transport out there. The cab even had a meter, no bargaining required. Actually I've noticed that with Chile after Peru. No one is harassing you to buy tourist shit you don't want, take cabs, eat in their restaurants etc. Based on my experiences in Asia as well, there is a correlation between the wealth of a nation and people annoying you.

Today I was flying sky airlines, Chile's budget airline compared to LAN. Although it wasn't that cheap. First stop Puerto Montt then a connecting flight to Punta Arenas. The airline was fine. It left more or less on time and my bag didn't get lost so no complaints. I also enjoyed reading an article in their inflight magazine about raw veganism. Raw veganism in South America? Love it. Not that I met any.

I asked for a seat on the left side of the plane cos I knew this is the better side for looking out the window. Do you think I got the left side? No. And I know the word is izquierda cos it look me 6 months to pronounce it properly! Anyway, looking past the people on the left, the scenery out the windows was spectactular. Mountains on the left, and leaving Puerto Montt, the archipelago of islands on the right.

I switched seats at one point to see the mountains better. An older man was sitting next to me and he was from France but lived in Mexico. So I had a French/Spanish conversation with him. It was actually really good, cos like most non-native Spanish speakers he spoke slowly so he was much easier to understand. He aslo spoke French slowly so I could understand that as well. My speaking (of either) isn't that great, but I can understand a fair bit more when accents, speed and slang words aren't getting in the way.

I got the mini bus into Punta Arenas from the airport. I like this, its cheap and drops you wherever you want. I needed the bus station. Said au revoir to Christian and bought my ticket to Puerto Natales for 5pm. That left me with an hour to explore Punta Arenas.


After about two minutes I was confused by the existence of this town. It is the windiest place EVER. Why would they build a town here? Seriously, I was trying to walk and getting no where or being pushed along almost running. Ridiculous. And it turns twigs and dirt etc. into missiles which hurt a lot when they land in your face and eyes. There's no way you could ever ride a bike here. That would be so dangerous.

Tim, water feature.


I did see some cool birds that looked a bit like penguins.


You know you're very far south when you have a government department which includes Antarctica.


It goes without saying this place is cold. An hour later I was glad to be on the warm bus and heading north to my final destination for the day, Puerto Natales!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Pucon

I got up to get to the tour place for 6.30am. It had been raining overnight and the clouds were still around. This was not looking good for climbing the Villarrica Volcano. We waited about 45 minutes and then the guy told us that the weather at the base was too bad and the tour would not go today. We put our names down for tomorrow hoping it would be better since that's the only other day any of us could do.

I was staying in a different hostel to everyone else, since I'd prebooked a bed at ecole since it has a veggie restaurant as part of it. At around 10.30am I headed over to the other hostel. This cool giant dog lives there. He looks like a bear! His name is Thomas but he would only be your friend if you gave him food. Otherwise, he just lay there not coming when you called him over. Arse.


So, then I was keen to find out what we would do today instead. Oh my god, what a task that was. 'I want to go mountain bike riding', 'I want to go to the waterfalls', 'I want to go to the beach and drink wine'. This went on for about 2 hours cos no one could decide on anything or who they were going to go with. Then I think everyone got bored and started leaving. I was in the bus to the beach with wine group. It's surprising, I know. Seriously, even this was like herding cats! Someone would wander off into shops, and then someone else would go looking for them, then we'd be down to two people standing around going "where did the rest go now?" and we'd be waiting around again. So finally we make it onto a bus going up to lake Caburgua, which has a very nice beach.

One of the girls on the bus tour is Spanish. She did all the talking to find out which bus to take cos we had to get off before before the end for the waterfalls. I was watching a group of guys just standing there mesmerised by what she was saying. I asked her later if the South Americans take the piss out of her accent. She said yes, but her defence was they can't spell properly cos they pronounce s and z the same, unlike in Spanish. She then pointed out two hand written signs to make her point. Snap!

So on the way we stopped in at some waterfalls. They were nice enough but you couldn't swim in them which is a bit boring.



Here are some cool heads on the beach.


On the way back from the beach we found the English boys, who were having pisco sours. Sounds good, so we decided to have one too. They were so good at this bar. And I don't know who's right, but Peru claims it's their drink and so does Chile. After this one, I think Chile is winning. That said, I like the passionfruit pisco drink better anyway, which I had in Peru. Of course I was ordering mine without egg white, which is the traditional way to make them so they go really fluffy on the top. Eggs in drinks freaks me out regardless of the vegan thing. It's just plain weird!

We got back to Pucon and the Pachamama bus picked us up to take us to some hot springs. These were much nicer than the Aguas Calientes springs. For a start, they weren't all murky. They were also much warmer. We had to keep getting into the Liucura River, which was freezing, and then jumping back into a hot pool. But the hot and cold sensation felt so nice. Here's a nice shot of my arse climbing into the river!


By the time we got back to Pucon, it was late. After dinner and packing up my stuff to leave at 6.30am again, it was 1.30am. I went to sleep for what seemed like about five minutes before I had to get up. Urgh! Checked out of my room and headed down to the tour place. The sky was cloudless and there was no rain over night. This was a good sign and the tour to the volcano was on. The adventure companies are great. They provide you with all the gear you need including good quality snow boots. You just need lunch and sunblock basically.
 
So off the bus goes to the volcano. Driving up to it is starting to look quite daunting. It is 2,800m above sea level, the same as Machu Picchu.


This is a popular ski resort in winter so we could take a chairlift up the first 1,000m. If you don't do this, you add 2-3 hours to your day. Bollocks to that.

Coming from a subtropical place, I believe this was my first time on a ski lift. It was really high and freaked me out cos it had no safety bar on the front and I am scared of heights. As a result you can only take it up, not down the mountain. I had some American guy next to me who I asked to keep talking to distract me. I found out he sells beer for a living. Sweet. Pity he didn't have one on him then.

Then the climbing started. At the start it was mostly rock, and our ice picks doubled as walking stick things. I only slipped over once so that was good. Then came the snow and ice. This was harder to walk in. Plus the mountain got steeper as you ascended. Half way up we had our first rest. I can't believe how hungry it makes you.


Then we had another break after about 30 mins more of climbing. Seriously this break couldn't come soon enough. It was definitely getting harder and we were all knackered. I doubt everyone who tried made it to the top. This was physically one of the hardest things I've ever done.


 
Towards the top we were back into rocks. This bit was really steep and I started getting worried about getting down the mountain. Too late to back out now. Then we reached the top. This is our Pachamama group. Only four of us went up but we all made it. Hooray!


Fuck it was cold! But the views were spectacular.
 


This one has Pucon and the lake in the background.

 
Also, I know that something weird is going on with the contrast on my phone. I don't know how to fix it or edit the photos on a PC since all the computer editing programs are in Spanish.

This is what the inside of an active volcano looks like.



Thankfully the smoke from the volcano was blowing the other way so we could stay up there for 45 mins or so. Sometimes you can only stay up there for five minutes cos the smoke is poisonous. We had masks in our bags but I think they are only good for an hour and sometimes you need them for part of the climb.

These are our guides. They were awesome. At the top the just wrestled each other and hid each other's backpacks. Considering they are the ones we needed to rely on if something goes wrong, I was slightly concerned about that.


You need one guide for every 6-8 people. There were probably a good 300 people or so on tours today.

Then came the getting down part. We had to put all our gear on for this including a toilet seat lid thing.


This is why.



Tobogganing down the mountain on your arse on the toilet seat lid was AWESOME!!!!
Although I was shit and kept getting stuck cos I don't weigh enough apparently (I know, terrible). At one point I hooked onto a guide and he took me down. His technique was really good, obviously, so I didn't have to do anything.

The Canadian guy, Ryan, then told me about toboozing, which is where you get drunk then toboggan down the mountain. That sounds pretty fun and slightly dangerous. However, it still doesn't make me want to move to Canada.

We got to do about five toboggan paths before the rocks were back. This didn't take too long to walk down and we were back on the bus. Back in Pucon we got to have a free beer with the group and the guides. We were all exhausted so a beer went down an absolute treat. Then I saw two guides get on their mountain bikes to ride home. That is some serious fitness.

I said good bye to the boys. My plan tonight was go to go to Temuco and stay there since I have an a flight tomorrow. Temuco is two hours from Pucon. However, I really couldn't be bothered trying to find a hostel when I got there plus there are only two on hostelworld and neither is near the bus station. Temuco is also boring and there are no veggie restaurants. Time for Plan B. First, check the first bus out in the morning: 6am, good. Second, go back to ecole and see if I can get a bed. Done. Third, have dinner at a reasonable time for the first time in two nights. Done. I like this hostel cos of the veggie restaurant. It's not the best food I've had in South America, but it's still ok.

Since I was exhausted and had to get up at 5.30am in the morning, it was an early night for me. I was glad no one else was staying in the room, it made uninterrupted sleep easier without others coming in late. Tomorrow, I head south. Way south!