Dos amigas en Sudamérica

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Machu Picchu, where are you? The last days of Cusco

Last time you caught up with this lone traveller she had just crossed the border from Chile to Peru in a strange 1950s car wondering whether she would ever shake the illegal immigrant feeling. I´m pleased to say that three weeks in Peru has made me much more accustomed to the strange men in cars, women with toothless dry grins trying to entice me to buy their weird concoctions (is that meant to be juice?) and long bus rides where the occasional chicken squawk from the back of the bus is customary.

So apart from soaking in the street life and eating up the menus del dia, what on earth does one to in Peru?

First, accompanied by lovely German friend Maike, I made for Arequipa. There we could have spent days wandering around the amazing churches and monasteries. Worth a mention is monasterio de Santa Catalina (named for St Catherine of Sienna woohoo!!), one of the oldest building in Peru and most definitely a city within a city. Built entirely from volcanic rock (pretty common around Peru) and home to one saint and at least two blesseds. Not bad eh?
But you can´t spend all your time in the city when the world´s second deepest canyon calls. So off we trekked, all the way down, accompanied by amazing views of ´Jurassic Park´esque vegetation and sheer cliffs. The annoying thing about exploring the bottom of a canyon, however, is the whole climbing out of it again. Not the funnest day of my life, but you can bet this slow climber sped up quite a bit when overtaken by a 90 year old woman in sandals! Rewarded myself at the top by partaking in guinea pig feast. Yep, I succombed to peer pressure and tried the ´delicacy´. ahem. if you ask me, a lot of work for something that... well... tastes like chicken!

Next, it was onto Lake Titicaca, the world`s highest navegable lake. Once we caught our breath (cocoa leaves definitely help with the altitude, I don`t care if they`re illegal outside of Peru and Bolivia!!) we spent some time on the floating islands of the Uros people, which they built hundreds of years ago to get away from the invading Incas. Clever idea - just chuck enough reeds down on the water and you can build whole villages on them!

And then I made my way to my last port of call in Peru, Cusco. This city is everything you`ve heard about it - ancient, hilly, touristy, enchanting, did I mention hilly? Went to the chapel where the first Mass in South America was celebrated in 1533. Awesome. In the cathedral I had to stare for a very long time at the massive portrait of The Last Supper which replaced the bread with guinea pig and wine with chica, before deciding that if it was in the cathedral it couldn`t be blasphemous, right? hmm.. Also saw the third most valuable monstrance in the world and Peru`s finest jewel: 1600 diamonds, 500 pearls (including the second biggest pearl in the world). Too bad it`s too valuable they don`t actually use it for Adoration anymore.

And then it was time to do that iconic rite of passage called the Inca Trail. True to form, this idiot got some sort of food poisoning two days before hand which continued well into the trek. SO I spent the first 2 days trekking without any food in my system, with a pack that weighed WAY too much and a stomach that was as unpredictable as the so called toilet ´facilities´ along the way. Nevertheless, the most awesome experience of my life. Never mind the fact that when we got to the Sun Gate on the 4th morning having practically sprinted there before sunrise, we couldn`t see a thing of Machu Picchu due to the pouring rain. But it was all good because we got there alive and got to see the Lost City of the Incas up close, (even if we couldn`t from afar).

And thus ends the somewhat haphazard writings of this traveller. I cannot believe I´m saying this, but this is my last day in a hostel for a very very long time. And I won't be too sorry for it.

To those faithful readers, thanks for tuning in! Hopefully Sopa de Claire will make some sort of entry in the future when she resumed her summarily shortened trip, and we'll all get to live the dream again.

Don't panic
- Jovi

Sunday, January 14, 2007

So what does one do when abandoned in Chile?

I have a confession to make. While Claire came up with a lovely elaborate excuse as to why she´s returned home (with an awesomely appropriate cricket analogy to boot) she tells a lie. The truth is we had a massive fight and decided that South America is only big enough for one of us.
Another one bights the dust.

Ok so I know none of you believe that. To be honest, nothing could be further from the truth. For 2 months I had the pleasure of travelling with an excellent travel buddy who could weather my moments of ditziness, not get annoyed whenever I asked her a question that she had no idea about expecting her Geography tag to suffice, pull me up whenever I stacked it (often) and oblige me in stupid poses for interesting photos. I cannot sing her praises enough, but I guess the fact that she managed me for 2 months says enough about her strength of character. Some of you know I´ve been searching for my Amazing Race partner for a while, and maybe if all goes well with Claire´s Anterior Cruciate Ligament, she might make it to the auditions. (I think Claire should actually do a blog about her knee, since it has been the topic of nearly every conversation for the past 3 weeks, so hopefully you will see one soon).

I miss her terribly.

Claire and some members of our Santiago ´family´

But what does one do when abandoned in Santiago, at the only hostel I´ve ever known to have a cricket pitch out the back (yep, owned and populated by Aussies). Well, I thought of bumming around Santiago for three weeks with my newly found Santiago ´family´ and occupying my life with Mote con huesillo, empanadas and ice cream (best ice cream in the word comes from Chile!!) but then decided that I would carry on the dos amigas plan and head north. So I jumped on another Pachamama by bus tour for six days and headed into the desert that is the north of Chile. Having finished it, I´ve gotta say it was the best decision ever. ALong the way I got to eat at Empanopolis (34 selections of empanada), swim in an oasis, watch the sunset in Moon Valley, eye off some sea lions and a sea elephant with dolphins jumping over the top of our boat, lie down on the salt flats (it´s amazing how much of an inclination one has to lick the ground when one is told it is entirely salt), and most importantly I SAW FLAMINGOES up close. This has been a quest of mine for a while, and I´ve gotta say, these birds are way cooler than I thought. Not only do they have an awesome run-up technique and the all-pink thing going on, but they also mate for life. I like it.

mmmm... empanadas

Did I mention I ate a llama? Well not an entire one, but they tasted so good I could have. And no, they don´t taste like chicken. More like kangaroo. Yum.

The tour finished in San Pedro de Atacama, a tiny town of 2000 people which is constantly overrun with about 4000 travellers, but still manages to remain really cool and chilled out, despite being in the middle of the desert. Where else can you go snow-boarding in a place called ´death valley´.

me with my genies on the salt flats of the Atacama desert

So enough about my raving about the north of Chile. I finally have a passport and so it´s time to head to CHEAP countries. And while Bolivia would be awesome, the whole riot thing doesn´t appeal, plus it´s raining in Bolivia right now, so I´m headed for Peru with my German friend Maike.

Will Jovi make it to the Inca trail alive? Will she be able to get through Peru without mistakenly eating guinea pig? Does Paddington bear still have any relatives left in Peru? Tune in next time to follow the adventures of this quasi-Lone Stranger.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Una amiga en Sudamérica... y otra en Australia

Four great Aussies retired yesterday - McGrath, Warne, Langer and Brittain.

Yes, after nearly seven amazing weeks of travelling I have bowed out. Unfortunately, I have returned to Sydney with three torn ligaments that require physio and possible surgery.

The plus side is that I can now enjoy the best of an Aussie summer. So for the next two months I will be lazing by the pool, watching a tad of cricket and sipping a few beers. I urge anyone in Sydney to join me!

My absolutely fantastic travel buddy Jovina is still on the road, so like all of you I will be eagerly watching this space over the next four weeks to keep up-to-date on her latest adventures.

Thanks for the great innings Jo!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

So we came to Chile to hang out with... Aussies?

Boxing Day (which sadly, is no occasion here) saw the breaking up of our 13-fold Pachamama tour group with people dispersing in all directions. Funnily enough, the 4 Aussies in the tour decided or defaulted to stick together. It ended up a bit funny, but once you get into the company of constant pay outs all day how can you break up a happy family?

So what did we do in Puerto Varas? Well we climbed the main hill twice to go canopying. It was closed both times.
We decided to go get some chocolate down the road from our hostel. This too was closed. (It was at this point that Claire and Aaron contemplated starting their criminal record with breaking entering and eating, but decided against it).
We went to do the outdoor rockclimbing. Closed closed closed.

We left Puerto Varas. But not before Aaron (3rd token Aussie) lost his bus ticket by putting it in a pocket which had a massive hole in it. Such a med student.

Next we visited Pucón again, the location where we missed out on climbing the volcano 5 days before due to crappy weather.
This time it looked a bit more promising and our group made it about 2/3 of the way up. (minus Claire because of her monged knee - her new name is Cripple). Despite not making it all the way to the rim to peer into the lava, it was still the most breathtaking experience - physically and visually. Best part was being allowed to slide down on our bums the last part where it wasn´t too icy. You just run and end up sliding on your bum - the one time my lack of coordination has worked out well for me!

That night we went hired a little row-boat for some serenity on the lake. It worked well for a while (except when I was allowed to row - we all got a bit dizzy there!) until we decided that rowing up the peninsula and doing some bouldering there was a good idea. Will (4th token Aussie) was the only one who got over the top, but by the time he realised he´d uncovered a secret crop of something or other (I don´t want to incriminate the Chilean gov´t here) the Water Police were sirening us down. Mad scramble down the rock face followed by me yelling out sweetly ´Buenos días señor´. Needless to say, they told us to stay away from the peninsula and we obeyed. Found out later that the peninsula is owned by the richest of the rich in Chile. Hmmm...

The next day in Pucón we visited the National Park and went for a winding walk amonst massive gentle giants of trees, lagoons and cascades. A different sort of breathtaking, and definitely a good training opportunity for the Inca trail. It also helps that Will is an arborist and is very handy at pointing out the different species of tree and to an ignorant Jovi. I´m in love with Monkey Puzzles!

Before our night time bus to Santiago, Claire had thrown out her $50 bus ticket, and Will had also misplaced his. Which resulted in 2 visits to the Carabineros (the police!!). Let it be noted that of the 4 Aussies, Jovi was the only one who did NOT lose her bus ticket. Yup, I´m pretty good at losing passports but when it comes to bus tickets, I´m all over it.

Now the token Aussies have departed and we are once again two amigas in Santiago. First time it´s been just the two of us in 2 weeks! it´s ok tho, if Claire annoys me I just threaten her with Sopa de Claire.

COMING SOON in the lives of the 2 amigas: will Jovi ever get her new passport and be allowed to cross the border? Will Claire ever be able to walk without a limp again? will the pool at their hostel turn a lighter shade of green to permit a swim? tune in next week, for the adventures of the two amigas.


Gee, natural selection´s harsh!

So have you heard about that Chilean dish? Its called Sopa de Claire (translation: Claire soup) but Ill get to that in a minute.

After Jo and my brief departing of ways, we met up again in a town called Pucón to do a bus tour through the lakes district of Chile. The main attraction of Pucón is a snow capped volcano - Volcán Villarrica - which is one of the most active volcanoes in Chile. Hundreds of tourists flock here by the day to do the 5 hour ascent to the top... it has become a rite of passage for most backpackers.

Unfortunately for us, poor weather meant the climb was closed on our chosen day. But that didnt stop us looking for fun! Our replacement activity was a new sport known as hydro-speeding. The best way to describe hydro-speeding is that it is going down Class III and IV rapids on boogie boards. And with two weeks of rain behind us, we were assured the rapids would be bigger than ever. Sound dangerous? We were rewarded afterwards with a couple of hours relaxing in the hot springs sipping Kristal (Chilean beer).

The highlight of the tour was definately spending the Christmas holiday with our "Christmas family". After arriving in the town of Valdivia, we decided to do a massive cook-up in the hostel (many thanks to our bus driver, Sergio) and many of the other hostel guests joined in. In Chile, everyone goes to mass in the evening (8 or 9 pm) and then at midnight everyone has a massive feast, opens presents, and celebrates. It was a fantastic way to spend Christmas away from home!

Christmas day was more low key after celebrating the night before. We moved on to the town of Puerto Varas to find most things closed. The braver souls of our tour group went for a swim (look cold?) but most of us were content to relax all day.

Well... have you heard about Sopa de Claire? The one downside to the whole week was that during our hydro-speeding adventure, I did manage to bump my knee on one of the rocks I was assured wouldnt get in our way because the water was too high. After limping along behind our tour group for a few days they decided I was the weakest link, and in true Darwinian style I had to go. After debating the most appetising way I could be eaten, it was decided soup was on the menu.

Well, that´s the survival of the fittest.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Woohoo they think I´m one of them!

It may be incredibly proud to post this next entry but this is probably the only chance I´ll ever get to write this so here goes.

On my last morning in Santiago I decided to visit the biggest mansion in Santiago, built between 1870 and 1877, at a cost of two million gold pesos at the time (marble from all different countries etc). now i could spend hours describing simply the ballroom and the staircase in this shack but that´s not the point.

I´d already bought my ticket from the guide and asked her when the tour started, as well as how much etc. When it turned out I was the only one for the guided tour, she just started it in SPanish without asking me. I assumed this was just because she couldn´t speak English and assumed I would catch on to most of it. HOwever when an American family showed up halfway through who wanted the tour in English, she turned to me and asked if I could understand English, and would I mind if she finished the tour off in English.

Woohoo! They finally think I´m one of them. My plan of world domination is well on its way.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The policeman stole my panpipes!

Hear ye hear ye, let it be known to all that the two amigas are currently each travelling on their own.
Yes, oh loyal readers, we are apart and doing our own things... well for 4 days anyway.

No, it´s not because we´re entirely sick of each other. It´s simply because the silly Jovi had to get to Santiago to apply for a full validity passport in order to get home (not enough pages in the emergency one). Shout out to the Australian Embassy in Chile - how´s my application going guys?
Claire went to Chiloé down south because there didn´t seem to be much point in coming to Santiago when we hadn´t heard great things about it, but I must say, I really like this city. Many beautiful things to see hear and to occupy a lonely Antipodean. (Claire, if you´re reading this, we should never believe what the Argentinians say about Chilean cities again - go with the advice of English guys.)

It also helps that the lovely Matias (old friend from chemistry class) is back home in Santiago right now and sacrificed his whole day today to show me around - especially lovely when you consider he´s got to finish his masters thesis by Friday! Matias drove me up to Cerro San Cristobal, a hill on the outskirts of the city centre where there is a massive statue of Our Lady who watches over the smoggy city, and from where you can observe the box (surrounded by mountain ranges) that is Santiago. There I had my first mote con huesillo, an AWESOME refreshing drink of wheat kernels and peach in water (best way I can describe it, but it tastes so much better than I can describe).
From there it was a tour around the city, driving past the hospital where Pinochet died (very fascinating the mixed reaction in this country to his death) as well as the massive Military School where his funeral was held. Great time to be in Chile I can tell you.

One other thing I have to mention is the pharmacies here - there are SO MANY of them. on every corner. i can´t believe it. and there´s even one chain which blasts out dance music from its counters and has some DJesque guy on a mic inviting you to come in to the pharmacy. Bizarre.

Yesterday, while walking through the beautiful cobbled streets and gazing up at the colonial buildings, thinking how I could easily be in Europe, I came across a busy corner where some band had been stopped from playing by this massive police van that rolled up with 20 police officers. Bizarre. As the band refused to leave and the crowd started yelling ´´¡¡tocar tocar!!´´ the police then started to take the instruments away. If it wasn´t a bit terrifying I would have found the site of a police man carrying a massive set of panpipes a little amusing. I took photos but I´m not sure I should post them yet as a man a bit in front of me got taken aside and questioned when he took a photo.

Think that´s all I have to report. The two amigas will be reunited on Friday night.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Gee, aren´t hydrogen bonds cool?

Sorry for the long silence. My intrepid companion and I have been busy exploring the deepest and darkest depths of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego and have only just surfaced to report back to our loyal blog-watchers back home.

Tierra del Fuego National Park (Argentina)

Torres del Paine National Park (Chile)

The past week has been one of visiting National Parks, buses, playing card games with Israelis, more National Parks, more buses, and more playing card games with Israelis. The highlight of all this has been a visit to the Perito Moreno glacier in Patagonia. Nothing can explain the awe of standing in front of a wall of ice that is 60 m high and 5 km wide, eagerly waiting for a chuck of ice to break off. This is what hundreds of tourists flock to Perito Moreno each day to do - wait vigilantly in front of the glacier for hours, hoping to see at least one big ice fall.

Perito Moreno Glacier (Argentina)

The other highlight for the week was our white water rafting expedition near Bariloche, Argentina. After 31 hours on a bus, Jo and I arrived in Bariloche to gusterly winds, rain and cold. In fact, we had missed the snow fall by one day. Being clever chappies, we decided that the best thing to do in such conditions would be a white water rafting expedition. After all, it looked sunny in the brochures! Rafting down the Rio Mansa in class III and IV rapids, past snow capped mountains, forest and small water fall, was such a thrill! It was thouroughly addictive! I wasn´t even deterred when our guided decided to flip the boat, although I have never been so cold in my life! All I could do was float down the river yelling I´M SO COLD at the top of my lungs, and then laugh all the way to the bus when I couldn´t feel my toes. Good times.

And just by a way of disclaimer, I´m not the nerdy one who though of the title for this blog (thanks Jo!).