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Andean Switzerland


The bus ride marathon in Argentina began with the route Mendoza-Bariloche; only 20 hours. We searched for a hostel on the spot as we couldn't book one from Mendoza thanks to the blackout. We finally found two beds in one that we can't remember, without hot water...great! Considering the 15 °C outside and the wind...why would we need it?

Bariloche is gorgeous, it feels like you're in the Argentinian Switzerland; snowy mountains, lakes, alpine houses, chocolate shops and lots of St. Bernard dogs. The main square is packed with these dogs that have a little barrel hanging from their necks, accompanied by some smart Argentinian who wants to make some money out of it. The main street is full of trekking shops, and all travellers seem eager to do some sort of outdoor activity. Actually, Bariloche is in the middle of a national park, right next to the lake Nahuel Huapi and there's so much you could do, it only gets boring if you want to! Our first mission in Bariloche was finding a bus that would take us south to Calafate or El Chaltén, which seemed really complicated due to the distance. All the agencies we went to offered a 2-day trip with accommodation, but we wanted to go straight and save some money. In the end, a nice lady from El Calafate who worked in a random office helped us find a direct bus (30 hours) to El Calafate. We couldn't believe that we would stay 30 hours in a bus, but the flight wasn't an option.


The guys working at the hostel were organizing an Asado i.e. Argentinian barbeque for the night. The Argentinian way of cooking the meat is slow; they started the fire at 8 pm and we didn't get the meat cooked before 10, which made us only more desperate, but it was so tasty and yummy that we couldn't get enough afterwards! We spent the evening chatting away and drinking Argentinian wine with other travellers who were staying in our hostel, happy not to spend another night in a bus!
The next morning we decided to do a little tour around Bariloche. We rented two mountain bikes to do the Chico Circuit, a lap of 30km where you see a part of the Lake District. We had heard it was hard as there were many steep slopes, and we had to work our asses off to complete the circuit! We took it nice and slow and stopped everywhere we could to take rests and some pictures. One of our stops was at a beach by the lake; there were only locals there, relaxing and sunbathing whilst drinking their national tea, mate. It was nice to just lie there, despite it was chilly and windy. After the bike tour we took a chairlift to go up Cerro Campanario, a hill from where you get an awesome view of the whole area we biked around. It was very windy and cold, and amazing...such a pity our camera decided to die that day...

We spent the evening walking around the city centre again, shopping a little and indulging ourselves with hot chocolate and alfajores in one of the many chocolate stores. Bariloche is simply enchanting...somewhere you would always go back to, whether it's for a skiing trip or just to relax by one of the many postcard perfect sights around.


Posted by sonianick 17:29 Archived in Argentina Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)


Argentinian wines

sunny 37 °C

When you take a bus to cross from one country to another, there are always delays. Border crossing requires a lot of patience, as it's guaranteed that you will spend minimum 1 hour standing on the line to get your passport stamped. From Chile to Argentina, in the middle of nowhere, there's an office lost in the Andes that represents the end of one country and the beginning of another. We queued up twice; once to be released by Chile, and once to be accepted by Argentina. Such a waste of time, such a disorganised system, but it's the only way.

After 8 hours of bus ride, we arrived at Mendoza. We took a cab and we were soon in the Hostel Lagarés, where they were awaiting for us. The guys managing the hostel were extremely nice and easy going, and we soon felt at home. We immediately started to love Argentina.


Mendoza's popular for being very close to the mountain Aconcagua and also for its wines, and we weren't planning on missing a wine tasting tour. We booked one through the hostel that took the entire day. We visited three wineries; the first one was called Séptima, and it belongs to the Spanish group Codorniu, the second was called Cecchin and was a traditional Italian winery that produced organic wines, and the third was a family-run called Granata. Three completely different ways of producing wine, and all of them good. For lunch, we took a break at another family-run winery that served us "ginormous" amounts of food, and the wine never stopped being served. Drinking and eating, enjoying each other's company and meeting locals...what a hard life!

The city's not that pretty, but is lively and has a huge park where you could spend an entire day walking and resting under the trees. One of the first things we did in Mendoza was go inside a pastry shop and taste the national sweet; the alfajor. Everywhere in Argentina you will find alfajores with dulce de leche...yummy. We cannot figure out how people here are so thin, despite being the country with the largest productions of sweets and desserts in the world.


Our last day before taking the bus to Bariloche, it was so hot that the overuse of air conditioners caused a blackout in the entire city. The only light inside the shops came from the sun burning our skins, and there was absolute chaos, especially by the banks, where people lined up forming eternal queues. Our hostel manager Javier was desperate about the way Argentina works and said "better to laugh than to cry, this is Argentina". It reminded us of the blackout we had in Barcelona a couple years ago, although that was worse. Just a few hours later, the electricity came back on. It was time for us to leave, we called a cab and drove to the bus stop.


Posted by sonianick 07:41 Archived in Argentina Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Christmas and New Year

Chilean style


After 1 luxury night in a 5 star hotel in Miraflores, we flew to Santiago. It was late December 24th when we arrived at the hostel, everything was shut except for some random bars, we couldn't go to the supermarket and Nick was suffering from an ear infection and had recently bought antibiotics, so the party mood was not high up. We had dinner in the only restaurant that was open in our neighbourhood, Bellavista, and went straight to bed. In the meantime, our families and friends back home celebrated with wine, champagne, massive amounts of food and company. We were happy someone was toasting for us, we would toast when back home ;-)

On Christmas day everything was out of service again, so there was not that much we did. We explored a little bit of Bellavista, the bohemian and coolest area of the city, with its colourful houses, bars, stands selling jewellery made of lapis lázuli, the country's gem stone etc. We took the tram to the lookout of the Cerro San Cristóbal, from where we contemplated the whole city, limited by mountains. We also explored the city centre in Santiago, the Plaza de Armas, its fish market, but generally we weren't thinking that much from it, the city wasn't making us enthusiastic...maybe it was the weird Christmas period we were living.


From Santiago we took a bus and went to Viña del Mar, a beach town right next to Valparaíso. We didn't expect it to be so near to Valparaíso. We stayed in a guest house and generally chilled out for our whole stay. We had been doing a lot in both New Zealand and Peru, and were not looking forward to anything that would involve intense physical activity, we needed a good rest. We had imagined Viña del Mar to be much smaller, but it is actually a big town by the sea. Its symbol is the Flower Clock (Reloj de Flores) right next to the beach and the hotel Sheraton. During our stay there, we discovered a great ice cream café called Bravissimo, where we indulged ourselves on many occasions with gigantic cones :-)


Right before New Year's Eve we moved to a hostel in Valparaíso called Ángel, where we hoped to have some fun. We could hardly fit in there, it was so tiny, and of course it was full during that period, it was hard not to step on someone else's stuff...anyway, we adapted, there were no alternatives available. Valparaíso is a colourful bohemian city, where art is welcome in any form, there's a lot of nightlife and of course there are tons of tourists around. Its characteristic elevators take you from the lower areas to the "cerros" or hills. We went to see the house of Pablo Neruda, which has some privileged views of the sea and the other cerros, as well as the open art museum, an area where Chilean artists made some fantastic wall paintings. That very same day we met with Isa and Felipe, a couple we knew from Barcelona who were spending the holidays in Viña del Mar with Felipe's family. We went to have lunch in the harbour area in a restaurant called "Los Porteños", where we had some incredible ceviche and seafood. This was followed by coffee and a nice walk around Cerro Concepción, absolutely beautiful.

We were surprised by the quantity of food and alcohol that Chilean people eat and drink. The beer bottles are huge, just like the dishes. Our first day in Valparaíso we went to a very cool restaurant called J. Cruz, where the only thing you can eat is a so called "Chorrillana" (pork meat with fries, onions and egg). We ordered one for the two of us and it could have fed another 2 people...unbelievable!!!


New Year's Eve had arrived and it was time to celebrate. At 6 pm we started toasting with our mates from the hostel for the New Year's Eve happening around the globe. We all decided to have dinner at home and go out to watch the fireworks by midnight. We were a neat group from all over the place; Australia, USA, Germany, Canada, France, Argentina...we got on very well, we became each other's family and friends. Just before midnight we went up to Cerro Concepción to find a spot to watch the fireworks. As soon as midnight arrived, all the Chileans around us were singing "Chi Chi Chi, Le Le Le, Chile! Chile! Viva Chile!" and at the same time the fireworks started...you could see them everywhere, from Valparaíso to the other end of the bay. Champagne, confetti, hugs with strange people and 2010 was officially starting. We went down to the main squares, where there were bands playing latin music and people were dancing like crazy. Around 4 am most of the people from the hostel headed home, and so did we...there was too much craziness going on! The next morning, we woke up quite late and didn't leave for food until around 4 pm. There were random people sleeping on the streets, holding to a bottle of beer...the party had been devastating.

After some good hangover food we returned to our shelter and didn't move until the following morning. We had a 7 hour bus ride to Mendoza...we couldn't think of starting 2010 in some other way that doesn't involve travelling ;-)


Posted by sonianick 06:04 Archived in Chile Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Arequipa & Lima

Canyons & Ceviche


As soon as we were back in Puno, we jumped on the first bus that was going to Arequipa. Richard came with us to the station to say good bye. It was really cool meeting him and hope he's still travelling around Peru :-)

The ride to Arequipa was dodgy as hell. The bus was in really bad conditions, and the driver was crazy, it actually felt like we were back in Vietnam or Myanmar. We arrived by midnight and we didn't have any hostel. After some hunting and tips from a taxi driver we ended in a filthy place, but we needed a bed and everything seemed to be busy, so we stayed there for the night. Luckily, we found room in the hostel Los Andes the next morning, and it was neat, oh yes, it was great :-)

The city surprised us in a good way. We were right next to the beautiful Plaza de Armas, and all the central area was packed with pretty lanes, Christmas decorations and lots of people. We visited the Convento de Santa Catalina, one not to miss if you ever pass by Arequipa. Nuns used to live an alternative life here, where partying and having fun was part of their commitment to the Lord. It didn't last forever, as order was established by the Church, and when you walk through the rooms, see the kitchens they used to have, the gardens, and how they used to live, well, they were fortunate!


For the next day, we had booked a tour to the Colca Canyon, the world's second deepest. It was insane, we had to wake up at 2 am as the van was picking us up between 02:30 and 03:00. We sat by the hostel's entrance like two zombies, waiting for the bus when two Arequipeños started talking to us...they were pretty "happy" from their night out and were kind of funny. We taught each other Spanish and Peruvian expressions, and enjoyed their company until the bus stopped by the hostel. We continued in our zombie state for another 3 hours until we stopped to have some breakfast. It was 6 am, and we were already making new acquaintances, unbelievable. We then drove to the Colca Canyon, and damn, it's deep, but still we thought it would be more impressive...we had the wrong idea of what the canyon was going to be like. Regardless, the views were splendid and we enjoyed the moment, spotting condors (although from that distance, they could have been any sort of big bird). The tour to the canyon was devastating, but thank God it ended with a nice relaxing spa session in some thermal baths, and we went back to Arequipa fresh as a rose.


From Arequipa we took a flight to Lima, as the time was just not enough to stand another eternal bus ride. We went straight from the airport to the hostel Barranco Backpackers, located in Barranco. As soon as we got there we phoned Antón, a close friend from Palma we hadn't seen in years, as he was living in the Caribbean, and we met up for coffee after lunch. We finally met his wife Vero and daughter Sofía, it was great to see him after such a long time :-) In the evening, they dropped us off at a shopping centre in Miraflores called Larcomar, where we had some Mexican dinner before heading home.

The next day we visited the centre of Lima, although it was hard, it was nearly Christmas and people were crazy, the traffic was ridiculous and there is no underground in the city. We walked around a little and then went to a shopping centre called Polvos Azules, the house of fake in Peru. Similar to the Silk Market in Beijing, but with a smaller range of things to buy, we wondered around and bought some clothes, nothing major, only things we needed. We had the most delicious lunch we can remember at Punto Azul, and you can tell the place is popular because passed 3 pm there was still a queue to get a table. We still can remember the flavour of the ceviche we ate there...yummy.

Our days in Peru were coming to an end, and on the 23rd December, just 2 days after we arrived in Lima, we went to catch our flight to Santiago. We didn't expect that LAN would create an overbooking and wouldn't allow us to fly that same day, and in compensation, we were sent to a 5 star hotel, had all meals and transport paid and were already checked-in for the same flight one day later. We had a hot shower with a bath tub, satellite TV and all the comfort in the world. What a Xmas gift!


Posted by sonianick 12:38 Archived in Peru Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Isla Taquile

Lago Titikaka

sunny 14 °C

We got back from Aguas Calientes by 8 pm and at 11 pm we had to catch an 8 hour bus to Puno, the port next to Lake Titikaka. We went to the hostel in Cusco to get our bags, had some dinner, and off we went to the bus station. It was 10 minutes before 11 when we arrived, and the bus had already left. The company employees were bullying us for arriving too late...but, excuse me? We were there 10 minutes earlier, which is what they asked us, and since when do buses leave earlier? We found out there was some sort of strike, and the bus driver wouldn't wait any longer. And apparently, this was all our fault, and the only way of getting to Puno that same night was paying another 30 soles to hop on another bus. We surrendered and did what we were told, otherwise, we would be stuck in Cusco for another day. When we got in the bus, a guy came around taking pictures of each individual traveller, and that gave us the creeps...what was it for? in case there was an accident and identification was needed? Jeeeeez

Anyway, 7 hours later we were in Puno. We arrived so early in the morning, we decided to try to visit one of the islands straight away, maybe even sleep there. The lake Titikaka, at nearly 4000 m altitude, is the highest navigable in the world, so it had to be fascinating. We bought a ticket for Taquile Island, 3 hours away from Puno. On our boat ride we met a Swiss couple and a Brit called Richard, who was also planning to stay for the night. We first stopped at one of the Floating Islands, built by humans out of totora. People actually live on these, and nowadays they depend highly on tourism as they're not allowed to fish because the lake is a national park (at least that's what they say). We got off the boat and attended a class of island and home construction out of totora, had a look inside the houses and got persuaded to buy a little souvenir from them. As soon as we got on the boat again and left the Floating Islands behind, we found ourselves surrounded by km of water, the lake Titikaka is huge, it definitely feels like you're sailing along the sea.

Taquile island is small, but inhabited by a community of Taquileños, who are very attached to their culture and way of living. Both men and women need to learn how to knit clothes, furthermore, men conquer women by demonstrating they're good at knitting. They wear different clothes from anywhere else in Peru, and the colours and patterns will indicate their status (single, married, widowed). There is no need for police to exist as they have established their own set of rules. If anyone's caught doing something illegal under their laws (adultery, stealing, killing), that man/woman will be deported to the mainland and never allowed to step on the island again. They speak Quechua and a bit of Spanish, and are extremely nice. There's hardly any electricity on the island, the houses have solar panels but when we were there, we only used candles at night. There are no vehicles and the animals living there are cows, sheep, chickens and pigs. They have simple lives, but they seem happy, and that's more than enough.


When we arrived at Taquile, we had to walk to our guest house with our bags. The house was not very near, the way was all uphill, and we were at 3800 m altitude, so the walk wasn't easy at all. The house owner, Celso, was kind enough to take breaks every now and then so that we could get our breath back. We left our bags in the room we got assigned, and walked to the main plaza to have some lunch with the rest of the group. Everyone was leaving except Richard, who was staying with us. We were served a delicious soup and trout, with some muña tea...it tasted great. We got told there was a beach somewhere in the island, so that afternoon we went for a walk to find it. It took as a while to get there, but when we did, we thought we were staring at a regular beach, there were even waves coming in! The water was freezing, so we didn't swim, just chilled out until it began getting too cold, and had to make our way back to our guest house. The life in Taquile is quiet, you don't hear anything, even the people there seem not to talk...again, like in Cusco, the way of life is chilled out, but imagine how much it is here, without cars, TV's, electricity, shops, or tourists, because it felt that we were the only ones, with Richard. That evening we had a nice dinner cooked by Juana and Celso, and went to bed early. Around 10 pm, there was a huge hailstorm that we thought would end up destroying the roof above our heads. Thank God it just lasted over an hour...then there was absolute calm.

The next morning the three of us went for a walk around the Island. There were some Inca ruins that we wanted to visit at the very top. The views of the lake and the other islands was amazing, so it was definitely worth going up, despite how tired that made us. We had lunch at one of the two restaurants in the island and left Taquile afterwards. It was kind of sad, as Celso and his family were great to us and hopefully more people will get to stay with them. You may not shower or have the comforts you need, but spending some time with this isolated community is so much better, willing to be stuck in time, not knowing what's going on in the rest of the world and just living happily with the basic things. No ipods or cell phones, no DVD's, no newspapers and no saving up for the latest Gucci dress. We loved it there.


Posted by sonianick 02:50 Archived in Peru Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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