Saturday, 24 April 2010

We're going to the Amazon!

We've been in La Paz a few days now and were planning where to go from here before we meet up with Em and Dom in Buenos Aires on the 6th May, when we met up with a friend from uni, Chris, who suggested a Pampas tour, which is a trip to the Amazon. We've had a look and we're going! We're still traveling with Caroline and Charlotte, two English girls, and Sandra and Sofie from Denmark who are all great. It was thanks to them that we all laughed our way through the vomit bus from hell! So come Tuesday we'll be of to Rurrenabaque from where we head into the Jungle.

La Paz itself is a great city, although very busy and very polluted. We've explored a bit, and were stunned by the view of a snowy capped mountain that you get as you cross over one of the main roads! Yesterday we went to the "Witches" market, where you could by all sorts of "witchy" type stuff, the most obvious being a dried llama foetus which you bury under your patio/front door for all sorts of witchy benefits. These freaky things were of course sold by the ubiquitous traditionally dressed Bolivian women with their bowler hats, plaits and frilly skirts.

Although we didn't buy a dried llama, we did get a load of other bits and bobs, scarves, woolies etc ready for Patagonia. Some of the stuff is lovely and it's all reasonably cheap, so coupled with the fact that a place to stay here is a bargain, we've felt less like backpackers and more like tourists on holiday which has made a change!

Anyway, we're off to pay for our jungle adventure!

Thursday, 22 April 2010

South America so Far

It's been amazing so far and quite the culture shock having come from New Zealand! We arrived into Santiago and spent a few days there trying to get over jetlag and exploring the city. We were stayng really near the University next door to a dance school, so the area had a good feel to it. We also headed up the funicular/cable car up small mountain to get an amazing view of the city and the sunset over the mountains. The city looked quite European although seemed more manic and there were signs of the earthquake, with bits of rubble dotted around along wit some cracks in the pavements and buildings. Having counted about a million Santander banks around town, we headed on to Valparaiso on the coast.

It was a 2 hour journey on an amazing Chilean bus - they're incredible comfortable even on the "classico" which is just a seat, but a very comfy one! We've since taken others that are even better - the long distance ones pretty much put you in a bed! Valparaiso was basically an old port town which had really colourful houses up on the hills. We did a bit of shopping there and donated coins to the football fans - they collect money on the street to pay for the journey to the stadium!

From Valpairaso we headed 7 hours north to La Serena, another town near the coast but very different from where we'd just come from. It was a nice little "churchy" town, with a nice local market and a weird garden/zoo where we saw all sorts of birds - vulture-type things, owls, eagles, chickens, sheep, ostriches. It was pretty strange but we saw some things we've never seen before! In the hostel we met a few people over a beer or two, and have been traveling with two of the girls ever since.

It was a 16 hour journey up to San Pedro de Atacama, a small, really dusty town full of dogs and dog poo in the middle of the Atacama desert. We did a trip to a salt lagoon, where it was impossible to sink - the water was 80% salt, with lithium too which is supposed to relax you. The next day we went to the valley of the moon and the valley of death, two amazing rocky/sandy areas in the desert. We also investigated a tour into Bolivia and booked a trip with a recommended agent.

We then spent 3 days touring the Bolivian highlands, seeing lagoons, flamingos, llamas, vicunas, geysers and live volcanoes before ending at he salt flats, and expanse of white literally as far as the eye could see! The first night was tough - we were told to be ready for altitude sickness, and we spent the night at 4700 metres above sea level, breathing was an effort and the night was absolutely freezing. We survived! The next night was much better, although we stayed in a "salt" hostel, with a salt floor and salt bricks. It was fine, but dried us out completely - our soaking towel was dry the next morning as the salt absorbed all the moisture.

The last day was spent on the salt flats, taking ridiculous pictures and seeing a thousand year old cactus on an island in the middle of the flats. We also got hit by a few spots of rain, which for a place that gets 5cm of rain a year was quite an achievement. The last stop on the tour was the train graveyard. Just a load of rusty old trains covered in graffiti. It was an unspectacular end to what had been a great trip!

The tour ended in Uyuni which on first impressions was a bit of a dump, but it wasn't as bad as first thought, though we were glad to only stay there one night. It was our first encounter with the Bolivian traditional ladies, who wear all sorts of colourful dresses and wear bowler hats perched on t heir heads.

From Uyuni, we endured the "nightmare bus from hell", Bolivian vomit galore from the 2nd minute, and 10 hours with one loo stop, and an old smelly woman who was sat in the isle next to us. She was so old so I stood and gave her my seat, at which point she proceeded to fall asleep on Sara dribbling and smelling unsavoury, and then refusing to move once another seat became available. The road, if you can call it a road, was 7 hours of dirt/sand up and down mountains. The toilet stop was actually a bush, in a place which had toilets but no running water. The last three hours were on a tarmac road which was better, although as the sun went down we drove in complete darkness, with the driver only putting on the lights if there was no-one in front of him. We were still traveling with the girls from La Serena and a couple of Danish girls and an Israeli, just laughing our way through the trauma of the bus ride! As the driver turned the lights off, he put "turn around" the song on which spooked everyone, as we imagined turing around to be face to face with a nutter. The girls we're nervously laughing and then just decided to sing along.

We arrived about 8pm ish in Sucre, the old capital, which is really very nice! We've spent a couple of days here, the first night struggling to find something to eat and having fried chicken in what was basically someone's living room! An "authentic Bolivian experience" we later read.

We've also explored a bit, been up to a view point over the city and seen the main markets, along with the Casa de Libertad, which is where the government used to be, and still is ceremonially. We've found it to be very cheap here, and have had some lovely food in some of the "upmarket" places for less than £5. We've paid more for a bus with a toilet for tonight to La Paz, so wish us luck!

Monday, 5 April 2010

New Zealand...

Has been absolutely incredible. Everything about our time here has been absolutely fabulous. In 3 and a half weeks we've managed to tour both the North and South Islands seeing kiwi's, whales, glaciers, mountains, volcanoes, lakes, seals, dolphins not forgetting the albatross. It has been brilliant.

Having left Gill in Wellington, we headed on the Ferry across the Cook strait to Picton where we picked up our bus (the Magic Bus!) and carried on to Nelson. There, we walked to the "centre of New Zealand" and got a good view out over the city, and played around with the new camera. Nelson was a lovely littleish city, and we stayed a couple of nights. We wandered along the river which was very idyllic, and the water was freezing cold. From Nelson we headed to Greymouth, stopping a couple of times to see a seal colony (myself and one other girl bravin the pouring rain to grab a photo) and at the pancake rocks, some strange layered rock formations.

That night, we headed to the Montieth's brewery, where we saw how the beer was made which wasn't very interesting, and then got to try the 7 different beers and new cider. It was great, and once we'd tried them all, we were allowed to pull our own beer form the taps. I should say beers, we had half an hour to go wild and we did! The tour included dinner in town where we met some locals and had some great food, before heading back tp Noah's Ark Hostel where we were in the giraffe room. Most odd.

It was then on to Franz Josef, where we'd decided to do a glacier hike. It certainy blew the hangover away as we put on our crampons and climbed up the glacier, seeing crevasses, caves and wild and wacky ice formations. It was like being on the moon, and we slipped and slid our way through a blue ice cave. We were the last people on the ice which was great as it was empty as we made our way back down, and as the mist descended as the sun went down, it really looked rather mysterious! We spent about four hours on the ice which was enough to knacker us out completely and we were asleep by 10pm!

Next morning we were off to Queenstown. We'd heard of people getting "stuck" there, because the night life is great so we were looking forward to a good night out. On the way we travelled through the Southern Alps, going round lakes and over mountains and seeing some of the most amazing scenery we've seen so far. Once into Queenstown, we went for a wander and then tried a legendary Fergburger for dinner. Sara the the classic Ferg with Cheese, while I went for the Big Al which was and American's dream. 2x half pound burgers, 2x cheese, 2 x eggs, and enough salad to feed a family. By the end of it I could feel my lungs filling up with meat. Brilliant! So brilliant in fact we exclusively ate there for the two days, having onion rings and chips for brunch the next day, and a different burger for dinner, the Little Lamby and the Cockadoodle Oink. Yes really. We also headed up on the cable car, Sara laughing at my fear of heights all the way, to get a great view a Queenstown and the Remarkables range of mountains, and also to have a go on the luge. Downhill go-karting at it's finest. Sara went so slowly I though she was going to stop. We also got some great photos of the surroundings from the top of the mountain, and managed to make ourselves look mental with the ridiculous luge helmets on.

Then we were on to Dunedin where we accomplished little other than trying some of New Zealand's finest cheap sparkling wine over an early dinner, and falling asleep. We arrived into the town quite late and got a few pictures of some of it's "Scottish" style architecture - all the road names are the same as in Edinburgh.

From Dunedin it was on to Lake Takepo, an incredible blue lake with a tiny little church on its shores. The view form the church window is amazing! We hired a Kayak and paddled about for a an hour or so, seeing geothermal bubbles coming up from the bottom, and chasing the odd duck.

Form Takepo it was on to Christchurch where we went round the botanic gardens and the cathedral and enjoyed a lovely day in what is a lovely city! We stopped to listen to some german students in the cathedral square playing a healthy dose of britpop, though left as they butchered Wonderwall!

Kaikoura was next on the agenda, where we decided to go whale watching rather than dolphin swimming, the two big attractions. Within 30 minutes of leaving the land behind we were within 15 metres of a sperm whale expelling the carbon dioxide before diving back down Although difficult to see much (only 10% is visible) we watched it for a while before getting the classic shot of it diving down. We then watched the wandering albatrosses which we circling and landing near the boat. They were absolutely mind blowing. Skimming across the water with a 3 metre wingspan they were just incredible birds and to be so near to them was amazing. Then up popped the whale again and we watched him for another twenty minutes before Sara got him diving down on video, here. It was then onto a fur seal colony. There were some very cute little ones as well as some big lazy sunbathing ones, one of which waved at us. At least that's what we told ourselves. I have to mention the smell as well, the combination of seal and seagull poo was gross, and the seagulls had done their best to colour the large brown rock white. Sara nearly threw up.

From Kaikoura we headed back to Picton, stopping at another fur seal colony and seeing some seals that had hopped right up the bank. A seal in a bush is an odd sight! From Picton is was back to Welly on the ferry where we once again met up with Gill and her boyfriend Callum for cheap drinks and free food in the bar next door! She may be coming to the UK next year so hpefully we can return the favour and give her somewhere to stay for a while!

From Welly it was on to Napier where we went to the Aquarium to see the shark feeding. A scuba diver fed them whilst others snorkellyed with the sharks - we saw one snorkeller panic and jump out as one of the bigger sharks came near him. Hilarious for us, not so for him! We also saw a kiwi in the aquariums nocturnal kiwi enclosure. They're much bigger than we tough, about the size of a chicken, and their feathers look completley different from other birds. It was very difficult to get a good photo in the dark, but we got one which shows the odd beak and feathers ok. We then went around Napier which ws flattened by an earthquake in the 1930's, and rebuilt in a completely art-deco style which was quite cool to see.

From Napier we went on to Mount Manganui, where we met with a friend from home Sam who we know through Sara's chum Coral. We saw her at work for a chat and then went to the rugby before meeting up again afterwards for a bottle of wine! The rugby was great, we saw the Chiefs (local) play the Higlanders (from Dunedin) and the Chiefs won! The locals have cowbells to ring at the games for some reason! Back with Sam, we had a gossip about home and living in New Zealand - she's been away ages!

We're now back in Auckland having finished on the Magic Bus yesterday. We also popped to see anoter of our Asia kiwi chums Lisa who now lives and works here, and have been catching up with uploading photos and plannin a bit for Chile and South America in general. We fly tomorrow at 4pm and arrive at 12pm the same day travelling back in time 4 hours which will be most odd! We hope the last chunk of our trip has been as good as the last month here and in Fiji!