Friday, December 21, 2007
We took a trip up to the Mamalluca Observatory in the mountains below the Atacama desert. There are observatories all over Chile, including ones from Europe, NASA and US universities, but this is the only one open to tourists. It has a 35 cm lens - compared to the 8 metre lenses on some of the surrounding telescopes. Chile is famous for observatories, as they have the clearest air in the world - a fact that we discovered after getting scorched alive from an hour in the sun!!
Anyway, a bus collected us and brought us an hour and a half from La Serena up into the mountains to the observatory.
We watched the sun set across the desert mountains, then went inside the observatory, where our English speaking guide turned the telescope to the sky, and we took turns gazing at craters on the moon - it was fantastic looking! He showed us other parts of the night sky, and told us interesting facts about stars and planets. But the moon was the fantastic sight! It was so close you could see someone walking on the moon....should that happen.
We then went downstairs, and he gave us a slideshow presentation on the birth of the universe, including a wonderful shot of where we are in the universe, and how bloody small and insignificant we are. Cool.
Then we went outside, where it was completely dark, and he took a powerful laser and began pointing out constellations in the sky. Orion was the most amazing, and then he pointed a smaller telescope at the sky, and we all took turns looking at the nebula in Orions knife...the birth of a star. He showed us many constellations, then again we looked in the telescope and saw a beautiful star cluster.
I have always been so intersted in astronomy, so this was just fantastic. He said the smaller telescopes - through which you could see star clusters and nebulae - was about 1000 dollars, so myself and Alan think we´d like to buy one!
After that we looked back at the moon with the less powerful telescope - which meant we could see the entire moon, curve and all. We were able to put our cameras up to the telescope and get pictures of it all. What a night! And all for 15 euro.....expensive, huh?!?!
So that´s my little ´P.S.´ for La Serena.....how could I have forgotten a night like that?
See you in Mendoza....!
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Myself, Alan, and the Scottish two (Alan and Gail) stayed on an extra day in El Bolson, as we found it hard to quit our lovely solitary log cabins. Talk about a peaceful break in the holidays - all we did was lie in hammocks reading our books, or playing chess inside at the window seats, pausing every now and again to look out the window at the Andes all around us. What a time it was! I´ll definitely be hitting El Bolson again on my travels. Bariloche was pretty much everything I expected it to be - a bigger town, with bigger pubs, and bigger prices - nothing near as nice as El Bolson, but we weren´t there for the beauty...we were there for the adventure!
So, first things first, we signed up for the canopy sliding. This is a fantastic little day trip where you are collected on mini bus and driven up into the mountains around the lakes of Bariloche. On arrival we were given a little demo on the proper use of the zip-lining equipment, then strapped into our harnesses and squashed into a Landrover - yes, all eight of us. Then we headed straight up the mountain, bumping and shaking up the dirt track through the trees on an almost vertical dirt track, to our first platform, at ground level. Here we were given helmets, gloves and a leather strap thingy to use as a brake, when needed (eek!). Up we climbed onto the platform - really a pallet of wood hung with wires from the branches of the tree, but that didn´t matter, as we were only a few feet off the ground. So, we stood around and then were hooked on one by one to the zip line. The instructer told us to cross our legs, put our braking hand above our head on the wire, and hold the harness with the other hand, and away we went - zipped through the trees (with the greatest of ease). All fun and laughter, until we got to the other platform which, due to the steep incline of the mountain, was about 30 foot above the ground. Suddenly the pallet of wood didn´t seem so secure this high up......and with 9 of us on it!! I was very nervous getting in line for the next zip, because the pallet was shaking beneath me, and this next zip line was so long you couldn´t see the other platform at the end of it - you could just hear the zip as the person ahead of you soared through the canopy of trees, and see their bright red helmet disappear into the leaves. So, this time, my body betrayed me slightly - when the instructer told me to cross my legs (always the last thing you do, as your legs are holding you to the platform), my body wouldn´t obey! It just said ´no´! Stubborn thing.....it took a few seconds to shake it out of it´s fear, and jump into the zip line! I was probably helped by the fact that an eight year old kid had joined our group, and didn´t seem afraid at all! Anyway, we got to a maximum height of 60ft above the ground, and did 8 zips in total, so it was great fun, and I´d do it again in a heartbeat! Being up that high in the trees was beautiful, and when you remembered to look ahead of you, you could see the lakes of Bariloche spread out below you in a beautiful tableau. A little bit scary, but definitely great fun!
The next day was the white river rafting day. We were told that the river we would be taking is a level 3 to 3.5 (as the glaciers are melting higher up in the mountains, feeding the river a bit more as the summer goes on). We took a minibus far into the mountains from Bariloche (practically back to El Bolson), and were handed our fabulously flattering wetsuits! We were all in our swimwear, so I had to put it on over my bikini, in a lovely little communal area with all the other girls. It was bloody horrible! Like trying to get the fig into a fig roll! I had to be POURED into the wetsuit! But, I got it on eventually....and headed outside to be confronted by the ballerina-esque boys in suits! If I thought I looked dodgy!!! Just kidding - I had never seen such fine displays of manliness in my life! They were hilarious.....even had a kickabout with a football, just in case we couldn´t see enough how the wetsuit hugged every curve! Then we got our lifejackets, helmets and wetsuit socks. We were assigned six to a boat, so Mac and Bones headed off to another boat with some girls, and myself, Welly, Alan, Alan Mac, Gail and Ed took our positions next to the big inflatable raft beside us. We got our safety briefing from the main instructer, then we were introduced to our man, Santiago - or, as he preferred to be called, Santi. We carried our boat onto the beautiful water (glacial water - coming from the melting glaciers - has such a fantastic blue colour, and is potable, so you can drink it anytime you like) - which was, unfortunately, also fantastically freezing! Santi went through his instructions, and we practised with our paddles. Since Welly and Alan Mac were up front, we had to take our paddling lead from them, and they had to match each other, that way we all paddled as one. We also had instructions like ´right side back´, which meant the right side paddled backwards and left side forwards to turn the boat around, or ´left side back´, which was the same thing vice-versa. We had others like ´high side right´, which meant we were flipping, and the right side people had to jump against the left side to steady the raft, or my personal favourite ´rock and roll´, which meant drop inside the raft (we sat perched on the edge for paddling) and hang on to the ´oh shit´ rope which rings the raft - that instruction was for heavy rapids that we would just have to ride out, and couldn´t paddle our way through. All these intructions came as we were meandering slowly down the river, looking up at waterfalls pouring down the mountains around us into the little canyon we were sailing through. Absolutely beautiful! Santi was also great fun - everytime another raft came close, he started splash fights with our oards, so we were soaking by the time we got half way down.
And then the rapids were upon us! We had 8 in total, and they were just unbelievable! The boat rises practically vertically, and then drops just as much - you´re leaning back in the boat looking straight down into the churning water as it throws the raft high in the air, and crashing back down again. It was so weird - you feel actual waves in the river, because it´s moving so fast and crashing against rocks. The rapids were just brilliant! The instructers messed about, jumping on the raft to give it extra bounce - and Bones and Macs instructer jumped too high on the first rapids, and fell in, and their boat had to go to the rescue! Our instructer was very happy with our response to his orders, and our paddling ability, so he said he would take us in the most difficult - and fun - angles on the rapids, so it was just brilliant. I have never felt such a rush of adrenalin in my life, it was just fantastic, and I hesitate to even begin to describe how it felt to be thrown around the blue-green waves, with water crashing around you and into you, and trying to paddle and listen to instructions on what to do - it was one of the most amazing things I´ve ever done, and I´m delighted I did it!
At the end of the rapids, Santi stood up on the edge and shouted ´high side right´, and we all jumped against the left side - and saw what he was doing...he was tipping us! Ed spotted it, and tried to jump back, but it was too late, the raft overturned, and we were all thrown into the fast moving FREEZING water! I lost my paddle straight away, of course, and was looking around for Alan - then lost myself in the feeling of the water, and just floated downstream until the raft pulled up close by, and I swam back and Alan pulled me on board. We were all just crying laughing, and shaking with the fun and coldness of it all. Brilliant!
We climbed up out of the river, to discover that we were in Chile! Just over the border.... And then we changed out of our wetsuits - again in a lovely communal shed - and into warm clothes, then back in the minibus and onwards to base-camp, where a delicious barbeque awaited us! The woman who was dishing things up had her little girl with her - a lovely niña of about 3 or 4 - who took a shine to me, and babbled away in Spanish to me for about an hour. She loved my nose ring, and kept touching it, then got a sticker and stuck it on her so she could look the same! Funny onion.
We were bloody knackered after that! We just spent a couple of days hanging out in Bariloche, then myself, Alan, and Alan Mac and Gail went on ahead to Santiago to meet EJ - the other lads took a bus the next day after. We had the unfortunate luck of arriving in Santiago and immediately meeting with an unscrupulous taxi driver, who drove us to our hostel via every street in Santiago, charging 7600 pesos instead of the 3000 it should have come to, and then when Alan Mac tried to pay with a 10000 note said he had no change, and handed Alan back his money, then took the 7600 off of me. When he left, we discovered that he had swapped Alan´s 10000 note for a 1000 note. What a bastard!! So that left a sour taste in our mouth about Santiago from the get go! Then we arrived in our hostel, which had communal showers - for men AND women! After our trip across the Andes from Bariloche - taking 28 hours - I needed a shower, so managed to get in an out quick enough to avoid meeting anyone else! And the heat in Santiago was unreal! We went out for a lovely meal that night, and that made things a little easier!!
Next morning myself and Alan got up early and caught a bus to the airport to collect EJ. All went well, and we had the exciting Arrivals reunion! Love airports... Then we went back to the hostel and collected our gear, and moved on to the next hostel, Casa Roja - which had a pool! We were too early to check in, so had to start drinking at 11.30 in the day. The rest of the lads arrived at about 5, so at that stage we were well oiled! We all swam in the pool, and drank some more, and pretty much had a great reunion in Santiago! Met some skater dudes in a park close by, and practised our Spanish. All good! And that´s how it continued for a week - we rarely left the hostel, except for food, and spent our time lounging by the pool in the 35 degree heat, and drinking beers by night. We met some lovely Irish lads - Stretch and Fuzz, from Tipp and Clare - and hung out with them, and had basically a bloody right laugh in the hostel! Even felt the earth move - our first earthquake! Turned out to be a 4.6 quake 500 miles away, so we only felt the tremor, but by God it was weird! Dunno if I´d want to feel anything stronger!!
We finally tore ourselves away from the party hostel, and headed north to La Serena, where I am just finishing up today before heading to Mendoza for Christmas. It´s a small enough town, overlooking the Pacific, with not much to do. We have a lovely hostel - Casa Maria - which is literally someone´s house, with some rooms out back for guests. Maria, a child of the 60´s who is about 60 now, treats you like you are her personal guests in her home....fussing over you, making sure you have coffee and tea, and stewing apricots with cinnamon from her back garden too cool you down on the hot days. It´s lovely! We´ve just been relaxing here after the mentalness of Santiago - taking my first swim in the Pacific, and strolling around town, and basically lounging in Maria´s back garden listening to the birds. Nice!
The lads headed off yesterday to Mendoza, and myself, Alan, Alan Mac and Gail, and EJ and Welly are going on today on the overnight bus. Our apartment better be nice!
Doesn´t feel like Christmas at all......it´s just too damn sunny. Also, there´s no real decorations up, so it really doesn´t come across as a Christmassy type place. We´ll decorate the apartment, though, and Gail and Alan have booked the apartment next to us, so we´re planning a monster Christmas dinner for 9 people - and we´ll have two cookers to get everything ready, so hope it´s good.
Really missing the kids! Can´t get my head around not seeing them Christmas morning, and hearing what Santa got them! It kinda feels like we´re just missing Christmas this year, and we´ll have it again next year. Strange. So, onwards again, and back to Argentina we go....just another few hours here. Maria is fussing again, and trying to make me drink some tea, so I´d better go oblige her!!
Saturday, December 01, 2007
The two main mountains in the range are Fitz Roy - above - and Cerro Torres. Fitz Roy gave the name to the village, El Chalten, which means volcano in the indigenous language, as clouds are pulled up from behind the mountain and blow out through the top, giving the appearance of constant smoke pluming from the summit. We got to El Chalten with a bang - literally. The buses front wheel blew out, and the driver crashed into the sidewalk. When we arrived, we met Alan and Gail in our hostel, and we all decided to take a short hike, as it was only lunchtime. We took the hike to the viewing spot above the village where you can get perfect views of Fitz Roy, on a clear day. The weather was amazing - sun splitting the skies, though obviously as you got higher, the wind got a little chillier (blowing, as it does, in off the snow covered mountains). We hiked up to the viewing spot, and had perfect views of Fitz Roy - incredible! It is an amazing looking mountain, and we all agreed that had we not known the local story on the mountain, we would definitely have thought it was a volcano, so convincing is the strange wind draft that draws the clouds straight upwards. It was only a three hour hike, and we had booked onto a glacier trek the next day, so we went to the only supermarket in town and found a meagre dinner from the offerings, as well as our usual ham and cheese sambos for the next day.
Ah, the glacier trek! We had assumed, like all other treks, that we would be collected at our appointed time and brought somewhere to begin the trek. But no - we were to be collected at 7, and wouldn`t be home until 7, and would walk straight from our hostel into the hills. So I got up early the next day, and cooked a big pot of porridge to help us on our way! What a hike! We left our hostel, walked around the back of it, and began our ascent up the surrounding mountain. After 2 hours of uphill, downhill, uphill, downhill, desert, trees, and more uphill we arrived at `base camp` for some brekkie - namely tea, coffee and some bikkies, plus the last toilet until the way back! We were all strapped into harnesses to wear on our hike, and given a little bag with our crampons, and off we trotted. We walked for another 2 hours, and got to the edge of the lake gazing over to the other side at the glacier, and up above it into the ice sheets covering the mountains behind, buffeted by winds so strong they were blowing some smaller girls (no, not sturdy me!) off their feet and down the gravel gorge beside us! We climbed across the moraine, and found a deep and fast flowing river coming from the lake - both that cerulian blue that only water filled with hundreds of nutrions and minerals can be (named `glacial milk`). And across this river? A zip line. So, one by one we were hooked onto the line, and we had to lie into it and climb across the river slowly, pulling ourselves along the wire, and trying not to look down at the rushing water below! I went very slowly on my first go - bit embarrassing really! The way back was better.....
After the excitement of this, we had an almost vertical climb over a huge hill to get to the side of the glacier - there were ropes attached to some parts of the trees to help pull us up the next chunk! We climbed over the top, and rested at the edge of a waterfall - all the water in the national park is potable, so we all had a nice refreshing drink of the water. The climb down was almost as scary as the climb up, and an hour after leaving the river, we finally made it to the edge of the glacier and got to put our crampons on! As the instructer was putting on ours, he commented that the hiking runners would make it difficult for ice climbing, as the soles bend within the crampons instead of staying stiff like hiking shoes. We were soon to find out what he meant!
After a short teaching trip on how to walk in crampons, we set off in a single line, wrapped up in waterproofs, and thermals, and hats and gloves and scarves! They took us around the glacier, showing us sink holes (some caused by the river below - you could look down the hole and see the water rushing almost 40 meters below you - and some caused by rocks sitting on top of the glacier heating up by the sun and slowly melting their way down through the ice - the melted water above them creating a lens, so the melting speeds up the lower they go). The glacier is 3km wide, so it was like being on the surface of the moon, or some other planet anyways! And though you imagine glaciers to be smooth and flat - well, I did! - the constant movement of the glacier means shards are pushed upwards and against each other, meaning you climb as much as walk through the ice, and around huge canyons of ice below you. The crampons made a very satisfying crunch in the snow, and the sun shone the whole time, with passing clouds releasing the blue of the glacier to counterpoint the white we saw when the sun beamed down. We stopped for lunch in a mini-canyon of ice, as our instructers set up a rope system over an overhang of ice above us. Ah - we were to CLIMB the ice? So, they asked for a volunteer to go first, and I hopped to it! They put my helmet on, attached my harness to the rope, and gave me two ice axes. Lean forward, hit the ice axes in one by one, and then kick your feet in one by one after it, and in this way make your journey vertical, and then almost over on yourself on the overhang. And wow, what a feeling!! I was climbing up the ice, and feeling very adventurous - especially when I looked down! - but then I discovered what they meant about our hiking runners - they bend within the crampons, so you couldn`t get a firm grip with your feet in the ice without hurting your toes A LOT. So I only made it half way up. Ahhhh...
Alan had the same problem, but made it a little further than me, Ed`s runner actually fell off while climbing, and only Daragh made it to the top - worked through the pain!! After the ice climb, we hiked back across the glacier - drinking some water flowing across the top (ice cold and very refreshing - as well as being packed with minerals...called glacial milk for it`s milky blue colour), and up the vertical hill again - ouch! Then back the other side, and to the river. This time it was no shame, and I flew across it. Very proud! When Alan was going across, our instructer, Mathies, rocked the rope like mad, so Al was bouncing up and down like crazy! So funny! He did the same to Mac, but it was just hilarious when he did it to Al, coz Al couldnt`t see why he was bouncing, and thought it was the wind! Brilliant! We hiked back two hours to the campsite, and were taken out of our harnesses and gave back our crampons - and thanked our wonderful guides for a fantastic day! (220 pesos - less than 50 euro). From the camp, we made our own way back to the village, and finally stepped through the door of our hostel, weary and sore, at 8 that night! What a long day of hiking and climbing and fun fun fun!!
We had decided not to go back to El Calafate, and on to Rio Gallegos, to make the long journey up to the Lake District, so we joined a bus journey called Route 40, which makes its way (so we were told) up through the Andes to Bariloche, and takes two days with a night stopover in Puerto Morino on the way. Well, the next morning, tired and weary, we got up for our 12 hour journey, which turned out to be a bus with no air conditioning or toilet. Fun. And we had no packed lunch - for the first time on the trip - and had to rely on the stops at petrol stations for sustanance. Not pretty! We arrived in Puerto Monino tired and dusty! A 12 hour trip with no views, just hot sun, and desert! Our hostel was nice enough though, and we decided to have a couple of drinks in the bar, as the bus was at 7.45 the next morning, and we were pretty wrecked! However, we met an English girl (from Hong Kong) in the bar, and ended up showing her what Irish and Scottish can do if they put their minds to it! The hostel bar closed at 12.30, so we went to a bit of a deliverance pub across the road (earlier in the evening, we had been beeped at by a car of lads who drove up and down the same street four times to slowly cruise by us and stare)...the door closed behind us to silence! However, beer did flow, and by the time I left at 3.30, I had the phone number of Lucias, who is from Mendoza and would like us to come to his house at Christmas time, and beer bought for me by Rodrigo, and pizza given to me by I don`t know who, and we had all made fast friends, despite them not having any English, and us having very little Spanish. The joy of a friendly smile, eh? Daragh and Ed went for a later spin in the desert, but that`s another story....
So it was with sore heads we made it on to another 12 hour journey across dirt roads in a bus with no suspension. Great. But the arrival at El Bolson was well worth it! Beautiful mountains, log cabin, free spirit....it was heaven to lie in this morning, and wake to the sound of trees and birds and general nature!
So, we had a hippy market today, with all organic food and lovely things, plus stalls with dirt cheap local handcrafts and wooden jewellery, as well as knitted and woven clothes, which they were doing as they sold them! Beautiful!
Anyway, there`s hikes to be done, and bikes to hire, so today is my lazy day, and I`ll get back into the swing of things tomorrow. We are leaving for Bariloche on Tuesday, where we will zip line through forest canopies, white water raft, hang-glide, and generally live it up in the adventure capital of Argentina, before heading to Santiago to pick up EJ from the airport to make our Christmas complete.
Nice life! I`m off to enjoy sitting out under the stars, with no houses in sight, and listen to the sounds of the world not rushing past.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
We arrived from Buenos Aires - that is, myself, Alan, Bones and Mac arrived (Ed and Welly took the full sleeper bus, so got here a bit later) - at about 9 in the morning, after 22 hours on a bus from Buenos Aires. Perhaps now is the time to explain what buses are like in Argentina, and maybe dispell some illusions you might have! Buses in Argentina - even the semi-beds - are like the business class section of a good airline. For example, for 30 euro (which is what the 22 hour bus cost down here), our seats tilted to a 30 degree angle - as near to lying down as you can go! You are also given a lovely fleece blanket and pillow, and a lady brings you a little sandwich when you first sit down, and brings whatever drink you like - coffee, tea, soft drinks. Then, a little later, they put on the movie, and as you are watching it, they bring a hot meal - the other night we got a little tuna salad, some bread, a chicken and potatoe dish, and some flan for dessert. We got two movies, then they turned all the lights off at about 11, and we all had a lovely sleep. They woke us up at 7.30 the next morning with some light breakfast - croissants and coffee or tea.
Not too shabby! It`s probably a bit of shock to some of you who think that I`ve been holding on to the side of buses racing through dusty roads, hanging on for dear life! But rest assured, Argentina is renowned for it`s bus service, so I`ll be hitting some fantastically basic travelling routines in Bolivia and Peru. You might see me hanging on to the side of a bus yet!
Anyway, we arrived quite early, and while Bones decided to have a snooze as his leg was hurting him (lazy bugger!), myself and Alan and Mac decided to have some physical exercise! The lovely lady in our hostel had told us about a place 17km away where a sealion colony was, so we rented bicycles and set off in the sunshine thinking "how hard can the cycle be?". It turned out that the paved road ended after about five minutes, and after that it was gravel and sand roads all the way out there. In the blistering heat. With no shade. With less-than-brilliant bikes. Eek! It was great fun, though - all along beside the sea! I thought I`d die of the heat, and my legs were giving way under me, but after an hour and a half of cycling, we found the headland where the sealions were. And wow was it worth it! They were swimming in the water, and playing with each other, and the noise of them was unreal - calling out to each other on the sand! There were hundreds of them! We stood and watched them as the tide came further in, and they were forced to all begin swimming as their little patch of beach was getting smaller and smaller. They looked so playful and lovely! So we had our little lunch at the headland, and began the cycle back. On our way along a long stretch of the road, we saw two other cyclists stopped at the side of the road. As I passed, they said that there was a whale out from the shore. We stopped our bikes, and just as we looked out to sea, we saw a huge tail flip out of the water! Wow! We watched for ages as the whale turned and flipped at the surface, shooting water into the air through it`s blowhole, and flipping its tail into the air. Amazing! We cycled on and found an abandoned sandpit that people had turned into a dirtbike playground of hills and ramps, and we tested our bikes out on that for a bit. We returned to the hostel sweating, sunburnt, but bloody happy!!
That sunshine turned out to be misleading! The next day we got up at 6.30 to join our tour at 7.15 for Peninsula Valdes. We headed out to the peninsula in time to be the first boat out in the water for whale watching. We looked great in our giant yellow waterproofs and orange lifejackets! The boat speeded out along the coast, and within minutes we were out in open water. We had been talking amongst ourselves, and all had assumed that when we saw a whale, it would be far in the distance, and that we would be lucky to even see a whale - this being just the end of whale season in this area. However, we were to be pleasantly wrong! Our first whale surfaced within ten feet of the boat, and the captain cut his engines and we all stood in silence watching this huge 30-foot long mammal breaking the water, rolling around so much waves hit the side of our boat, slapping his tail in the air, and actually spraying us with water from his blowhole! It was the most amazing thing I`ve ever seen. I actually stopped taking photos, because nothing can explain or show the actual beauty of just being there, and watching this ancient creature sunning himself in the water next to you. After he dove for the final time, and didn`t resurface, I looked over the edge of the boat into the dark water, imagining how many of these huge beasts might be swimming beneath us.
I didn´t have to wonder for long! We say four whales in total that morning, each as amazing as the last - and even a calf swimming alongside his mother in the water, playfully splashing. It was the most beautiful thing I`ve ever seen!
After our boat trip, we went further up the island to see elephant seals. What a weird experience! They looked like giant slugs, just lying on the beach as though they`d never move again. How were these even the same species as they playful and energetica sealions we had seen the day before? WERE they even the same species? We headed further up the island to see a small penguin colony, where we could look at them down on the beach, waddling around. It was bitterly cold out there! But no ice just yet - we`ll have to head further south for that!
It was a long day, but really satisfying! We felt like we were actually doing something finally!
Yesterday we took the trip to Punto Tombo, where 500,000 penguins live in a colony. Wow! Again, it was very cold - and extremely windy (it is 200km south of where we are now), but no ice. The penguins lived in little holes they had dug in the sand. You stick to a pathway running through their habitat, but the penguins have ignored the human presence, and waddle across in front of you at any given opportunity - we lost track of the amount of times you`d have to jump out of the way to let one by! They were just beautiful, and we even got to see some little chicks! At the end of the pathway is a cliffside, where you can watch them on the beach and see them swimming - for a creature so graceless on land they move like lightening in the water! Really fabulous! On the way back from the penguins we stopped at a Welsh town. In the 1800´s Welsh settlers came over to Argentina, asking the government for permission to settle here and have freedom of language and culture, as the English were oppressing them at home and forcing them to speak their language. The Argentinian government welcomed them, as they needed to populate the sparse region of Patagonia - so it was a win-win situation! There are Welsh descendents all over Patagonia, but this particular town we stopped in - Gaiman - still has Welsh speaking inhabitants. The Welsh flag flies, and there are Welsh names on streets and buildings, as well as Welsh tea-houses. Very strange - but it was lovely. And they showed us the first house built in the town - from 1840 - and you might as well have planted us down in the west of Ireland! A proper little Celtic house in the middle of Argentina!
The weather is getting colder, and we`re heading right into it today. We`re heading to El Calafate now, to see the glaciers - so Alan is bugging me to get off the computer, as we need to buy a fleece for the cold! My next entry will be with cold fingers and running nose.....ha ha!
Friday, November 16, 2007
The next room housed the section we had sought out - the World Press Photography exhibition. Wow! The photos touched me in a way I had forgotten I could be - even in my few weeks of travel. You become somewhat desensithised to the women begging at street corners, or the ten year old juggler pathetically stuffed into a clown suit four sizes too small for her in order to garner more change from the subway travellers, or the old man washing his socks in the fountain outside the botanical gardens, or the old woman shouting abuse at you for walking through her ´house´ on the edge of the street. These photos brought all the emotion back to me with a bang! I can´t ignore all that´s done in the world - all that´s done in the name of money, and greed, and selfishness, and just out and out cruelty. Photos of Palestine, and children lying dead in the streets. Of Lebanon, refugee camps filled with the displaced. Of American soldiers interogating people in their own home. Of boxing rings under the road underpass in Sao Paulo. Of slums and death and disease and sorrow.
In particular, as usual, I was affected by the photos of Africa. Children and adults strapped down in psychiatric hospitals, with the pain of war tearing at you straight from their eyes through the camera lens; Amputees playing football on dusty ground; Young girls selling themselves, or being sold by parents, as toys for passing men; Refugee camps filled with naked children, with distended bellies, and eyes calling to you from deep. And then the revelation - there is a mobile trailer that goes through African countries, showing films, and using this mass attraction to the magic of the movies to screen short teaching films on AIDS awareness and safe sex. And that one photo that makes me think again.....of a group of children, cross-legged on the floor of the trailer, eyes filled with happiness and joy, staring entranced at the silver screen. Tomorrow might bring more hunger, next month war, but for that moment in time, the camera has caught them as what they are and should be - children.
I think I would be a fool to ignore all the signs that point me more and more towards teaching, and helping, children in some way. If I don´t do something about it, I´ll regret it forever. I can´t sit back again and again watching the world get worse and just feel any chance of changing it slip away. I want to be part of the difference, and I want to do it soon.
So ends my drunken thoughts for tonight.......
Thursday, November 15, 2007
El Sol didn´t have enough room for our two errant buddies who flew down from Rio to meet us, so we had to move hostel (but then the muppets didn´t book themselves in here anyway). Another good reason was to see another part of town, and also to get some Spanish classes - which other hostels advertise. However, we were very sad to say goodbye to El Sol! We had a lot of fun there, and Paul, the owner, is one of the nicest blokes ever! Laurie, an American girl who stays in the hostel, is going to come down to Patagonia with us, so we´ll see her Sunday when we head off to our next stop. She´s a really nice girl! One of those cool Americans you meet now and again on the travelling trek who have endless capacities for sarcasm and wit - quite a find! Some other Americans we met....who also stayed in El Sol...were of the dimmer and moderately ignorant variety! One girl had already angered Daragh on our last stay in El Sol a month ago by explaining that she studied political science, but then going on to say how colonialism has helped countries like Argentina, and American interest in foreign soil is ALWAYS a good thing. She compounded things further on this trip by just being incredibely vacuous! We hit an American bar with the lot of them the other night - Laurie, Nouveau (her full name is Nouveau Sky...some wicked hippie parents, eh? And she´s from Seattle, so she´s a cool chick, to say the least!), Danny born-in-Ireland-raised-in-England who is inexplicably going OUT with the dim American, and the dim American herself. Her brother Charles (we call him Chuck) didn´t come out....but he is a male version of her, complete with the most unbelievable drawl you have ever heard! Man oh man, what a night! I got stuck with the odd couple for a while, and Alan joined us. Sample line of conversation?
D.A.G.: (Dim American Girl) So what´s your second name?
Me: Mine´s Griffin, and his is Price - they´re both Welsh names, actually.
Danny: Price? Cool name
Me: Yeah, he wants to call his kid ´half´
Danny: Ha ha ha ha ha
D.A.G.: *blank look* So what kind of drinks do you like? I don´t really like wine!
Yeah, it was a good night! Met some random English bloke who was very enamoured with the selling-beer-in-giant-jugs phenomenon, as were we, and he kept shouting ´mouth shot´ before tipping your head back and pouring it down your throat! Either drink it, or have it poured on you...so we got a wee bit tipsy!! He gave me girly-glugs, though....I didn´t have to skull it like the boyos! Daragh did his usual on the way home, and got slightly lost, heard a party from some apartment, pressed all the buttons on the buzzer downstairs saying ´Amigo? Fiesta? Ariba?´to anyone who answered....bear in mind it was five in the morning....before attempting to climb a tree to see if he could climb the balcony in. Fun times! Me and Alan were home before him, and our six bed dorm had an additional bed in it for one night only. Christian´s friend from Denmark (more on Christian later!) was asleep in it when Daragh burst through the door, fell on top of him, rolled off, and promptly went to sleep face down on the floor. I was listening to my headphones, so didn´t hear that it was Daragh. Luckily, I got up to use the loo a few minutes later and found a freaked-out looking Dane gazing in bewilderment at the pile of unconciousness on the floor. "I don´t know who this is!" he said to me. "Ah, that´s Daragh", I realised. I tried waking him...."Why am I so cold?" he asked. Because you´re on the floor, mon cheri! As I got him up and into his (lamentably) top bunk, I realised that he´d tripped over Bones´s bag of malaria pills etc. and strewn them on the floor.....the Dane must´ve thought he was off his head on pills, or something!!
Anyway, Christian. What to say about Christian!? Well, if there is a more pompous, arrogant man in the world, I have yet to meet him! On our first night back in El Sol, we took him to dinner with us, as we are kindly people, and he was in our dorm. What a mistake! He spent the whole night directing the conversation towards his main areas of expertise and interest.....language and literature. And polo. His views on the canon of literature were making my toes curl. Vainly I tried to hold back in some last vestiges of decorum - he is nominally our dinner guest, you should allow him his views, etc. - until I could hold back no more! Sample comments from our esteemed Dane? "Dostoyevsky is my favourite author, because I feel that I am leading a similar life to him", "I wish to learn Spanish so that I can read Don Quixote in it´s native tongue", "Women authors are of no interest because they only speak of minor social situations, not of the grander scale that male novelists explore"...........ah, you can see why it was that I suddenly exploded!! Women authors? NOT speaking of the grander social scale? What buffoonery is this!! So, it was a tense dinner, with him throwing ignorant mysogonistic comment after comment.....and when we returned to the hostel, what do I see in his intellectual book pile? Madame Bovary! Ah, so he reads novels about women´s narrow social view, but only if they are written BY men! What an asshole! The next night he talked about how we were lucky to be colonised by the English, as it is a fine language to have forced upon us. The next night he talked about polo. The next night he moved rooms. We rejoiced!!
On Saturday we got up at 9 in the morning and went down to the Riverplate stadium to queue for tickets to the cup semi-final that was being played. We queued for ages, but got front row seats in the middle stand at the half-way line. Excellent! We went to the match last night, and it started at 9, so it was quite late. It was a good enough game - the equivalent of a 1st division cup match in England, so the standards of football were pretty low. However, we went for the spectacle, and we weren`t disappointed! The popular stand is behind the goals, and is standing-room-only space for hardcore fans! They were pumping before the game even started. And just before the whistle, a snake of people - maybe 200 in all - marched into the popular stand (we could see it clearly from our seats) carrying flags etc. We think they were probably a firm, as they seemed the most hardcore of hardcore - the already full popular stand parted like the red sea to give them prime position. Then, as the whistle blew, flares went off in the stands, torn newspaper poured onto the pitch, the stadium heaved with the sounds of chanting! Most chants included ´puta´ - bitch. The only chant I learned was "Vamos vamos vamos Riverplate, vamos vamos vamos Riverplate, Vaaaaammmmooooossssss Riiiiiivvveeeeeerrrrpplllllaaaattteeee" (let´s go Riverplate). Anyway, it ended nil all, went to penalties, and the other team won...to complete silence in the stadium! Very weird to see a team running all over and jumping around, and nobody saying a word! Not even a sportsmanlike clap!
We left pretty quickly, as we didn´t want to get caught up in the popular stand emptying out, and it´s a pretty quiet part of town, so not much in the way of streetlights. We lost the other lads on the way down, so me and Alan walked for about 45 minutes (it was after 12 when the match let out, so the subway was closed), before jumping on a random bus for 15 minutes, then walking for another 40 minutes. Long way home!! We have tickets to the Argentina v Bolivia world cup qualifier in Riverplate again on Saturday. We´re going with Alan, and Peruvian mano from El Sol, so that should be good fun! We´re in cheaper seats for that, so higher up...but more in with the mayhem. I´m gonna start ripping up newspapers now to throw down, and perhaps bring a few rolls of toilet paper..........just to fit in, you understand!
We´re taking Spanish classes in our new hostel at the moment. The Clan is an alright hostel. Not so great if you want to sleep, as it is a total PARTY place....eek! Luckily I have my books on tape, so I just tap into Jane Auston (thank you Orlagh and Helen!!) and I´m out like a light! Back to communal areas for the women, though - how I hate showering in the presence of others!! I will, of course, be taking the minimal amount while here! No shock to the system there....
We´re heading for Puerto Madryn on Sunday, so from then on it´s whale watching, penguin watching and bloody good nature walks! Another nice 22 hour bus journey.....we might splash out and get the sleeper seats (fully reclinable) for the expensive price of 50 euro!! What a life...
Better get back to my ´oh so fun´ hostel (just a touch of sarcasm there), and do my Spanish homework. She´s quite the taskmaster, I must say!
My cousin is doing a lot better, and is working towards speaking now that he is off the ventilator. A bit of a miracle there, and could I just say, that it couldn´t happen to a nicer man. The lengths he has gone to in his life to please other people, and now he is getting some happiness and luck of his own. God is good, as they say over here!
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
We took the opportunity, whilst in Mondevideo, of taking two hours of Spanish classes, for a tenner, which turned out to be fantastic. Our teacher was a bit loopey - but in a very good way - and we learned a lot, so we´ve decided to continue with the lessons here in Buenos Aires. Daragh´s big into learning, so he´s been researching a few places, and the lads are actually sitting down to study every night now too! It´s pretty great!
Anyway, Montevideo......not much more to say on the subject except that it was gorgeous, and had some fabulous tourist attractions. Not least the biggest market I´ve ever seen! It´s held every Sunday, and takes up about a mile squared of streets. Near the top, it´s all fresh veg, and fish, and meats, and clothes, and handmade stuff, but as you delve into the back parts, you get weirder and crazier stalls - people selling antique (read ´old´) knives and axes, alongside super nintendo games! And the craziest old dolls and clothes you´ve ever seen! We didn´t know where to look half the time, but it was hilarious! You also got some good old tapes and records - none of this new-fangled CD nonsense! Also, there were guys set up doing the three-cups-and-a-ball routine...you know, flashing the cups around with the ball inside, and you´ve to guess where it it? There were guys n gals in the crowd obviously in on the whole thing, and they kept winning - just to keep the punters coming! Ha!
We stopped off the in the city hall on the way back, where there was a photographic exhibition going on detailing some social history of Montevideo, which was very intersting. A large man who worked in the centre came over to ask me and Alan did we need any help - we didn´t have much Spanish, and he had barely any English, but he managed to find out our names and that we were from Ireland. As he left, he leaned in conspiratorally to us and said "I believe in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is my saviour", and with a smile that looked like he was letting us in on a secret, just walked away. Strange!
Went out to a great Irish bar, that was very delighted to have actual IRISH people visiting, and made great sport out of us! They had a guy on guitar singing songs, and he set up beside our table, and got us to sing the words of all his songs - mostly U2. Great fun!!
Near where our hostel was, in the old part of town - on the same square as the Gurvich gallery, actually - another type of market set up every day, filled with the most gorgeous old jewellery and silverware. It was as if the colonial houses of the city had been emptied out onto these stalls, with women´s vanity items (silver brushes and mirrors) that looked like they were from the 18th century, and pearls, and brooches that had such character and intricate detail. And all for a pittance! Given the state of Uruguay - i.e. the economy crashing from a state of wealth - these market stalls could well be the riches handed down from generation to generation, until the present generation fell on hard times. Myself and Alan got talking to a stall owner, and it turned out he had visited Ireland when he was in London in the 50´s, and thought that Dublin was a great city. "Terrible ferry crossing though", he said. I assured him that it was still the same!
We took the 11.30pm bus out of the city. The bus station is better than Dublin Airport (I know, I know - doesn´t take much!), so even though we had to get down there an hour before our bus left, we had plenty of things to do in the various shops to keep us occupied. Also had to get rid of our pesos! After the expensive Reai in Brazil, where everything was practically divided by 2 (I think it´s about 1 reai for 0.60 euro), it was weird to be in Uruguay, where it was 30 pesos for 1 euro. Therefore you paid hundreds of pesos for things! Hard to get used to having 1000 peso notes in your wallet........
The bus was supposed to deal with our border crossing, as it happens at 5 in the morning, but there must have been something wrong, because at 5 we were all woken up and ushered off the bus while the armed border guards got on and searched the bus. Then we had to line up and have our hand luggage searched, and then all our big bags were onloaded from the bus, and we had to go get our bag and bring it to the border police. I was obviously quite dozy, having just been woken up, so when I went over to the border guard with my bag and hoisted it up onto the table, I said "Hola" whilst giving a big yawn. The guard laughed at me and asked me where I was from, and when I said Ireland, asked if I´d enjoyed Uruguay. I said yes - naturally - and gave another yawn. He laughed again, and when I unlocked my bag, gave only the most perfunctuary of searches - didn´t even dislodge any items - before sending me on my way. Definitely the most pleasant encounter with an armed border guard I´ve had! When I think to the behaviour of the poxy Americans coming back from New York with my bag of Jelly Beans?? Bloody hell!!
Anyway, we arrived back in Buenos Aires early in the morning, and headed up to El Sol again. They all remembered us, and were glad to have us back - how nice! Paul, the American/Chilean owner, is great craic, and last night he showed us his hand-made acoustic bass. Very cool! He got some guy here in Buenos Aires to make it for him. He also had a guitar, and taught Alan how to play some Jackson Five and a bit of Neil Young, so we had a nice night hanging out!!
So, since I´m back in the land of cheap beer and steak, I am off to have a bit of both right now! I am far happier now also, as my cousin Patrick has made a bit of an improvement, and is starting to respond to talking. Even though Mam is back on her chemo tomorrow, which is always hard to think about, but she´s a tough cookie, that woman, so I´m sure she´ll be in her usual won´t-sit-still form this weekend.
Buenos Noches, Amigos!
Saturday, November 03, 2007
Things I´ll miss about Brazil? Christopher´s outrageously enthusiastic lust for life (tempered slightly by the moderate annoyance caused by his constant happiness); Senór Chocolate! The man who came around every night at 9.15 with the most fabulous hand-made (by his wife) chocolates you have ever tasted - chocolate, coconut, strawberry (with real chunks of strawberry), coffee - gorgeous! I ate four on my last night!; Having a double room with Alan! Definitely high on the list! You don´t realise how much you value your privacy until you are forced to undress night-in-night-out with five lads breathing down your neck; Waking up to the sound of the waves across the beach; Keef, the crazy dutch man who could play harmonica like no other; The great common area, where there was unlimited beer and craic to be had.
Things I won´t miss about Brazil? The enforced ´fun´of the hostel - you know, when people put Hawaii flower things around your head, and TELL you to laugh...not my idea of a good night! I´d rather have fun organically - you know, when the fun just HAPPENS by itself - than to have it forced upon me; Being there long enough to see three turnovers of people - do Ozzies have to be the loudest people in ever room? The girls especially - God, just relax! You don´t always have to have EVERYONE looking at you!; Not being able to just have a quiet night in, because somebody´s always berating you for not going out; The locals in Barra Lagoa - never have I seen a tourist spot so loathing of tourists! Seriously!; The crime element of Brazil - getting checked with a metal detector before entering a pub? Crazy!!; The high prices of things - be happy to return to a world where I can eat out occasionally!; The language - I´ve enough to deal with learning Spanish without throwing Portoguese on top of me, thank you very much.
Anyway, had to take two buses to Montevideo, and the border crossing happened in the middle of the night, but our lovely bus driver had collected all our passports and relevent forms and processed everything while we slept. What a service!! Montevideo is gorgeous! Yes, it helps that we left Brazil in tropical storms and torrential rain, and it is now in the mid-30´s with beautiful blue skies, but it is still a gorgeous city! Again, like Buenos Aires, very European - the lost Colonial riches still haunting the facades of buildings, giving a gravity to the vista belied slightly by the McDonalds shoved into the bottom floors!
The drive here passed a few Brazilian towns away from the coast, where lean-to´s and garbage dumps served as people´s homes. What a country! So wealthy and expensive, and yet such a multitude of people falling below - and WELL below - the poverty line. It´s a sad parallel to see, especially when you are a traveller getting through the land on comparative riches - watching barefooted children running through red-mud ´streets´in between shacks of varying states, and as night drew in, seeing that there was no electricity in a lot of ´houses´ - though the odd satellite dish could be seen attached to the delapitated side of a galvenised house. Much like the down-and-outs in Dublin who can afford Lacoste tracksuits and Sky television, but can´t feed their children, you can see that the same luxury-hunting infects this country too - and, again, it´s the innocents who suffer (children, as always).
Montevideo has it´s share of poverty, and you are beseiged by beggars asking for money, spotting, of course, your tourist status. I don´t know how to react in most circumstances. Saying no to a woman old enough to be my grandmother, or to a man bent-over with alcohol, or to a mother and child is so hard. The children running alone are tough too - ragged jumpers and bare feet. I have taken to carrying small packets of crackers or bread with me - handing those instead of money. But there is not so much here in Montevideo as you would imagine - despite the fall in economy, they are still a proud people, who hang on to their luxuries guardedly. I think I will find poorer countries - like Peru and Bolivia - so much harder. Matthew, a young chap from Derry (only 18 and travelling alone!!) we met in Barra Lagoa, is tagging along with us now. His sister is living in Buenos Aires at the moment, but before that she was working in Bolivia with street children. He says she found it extremely hard - caring for children that show up beaten the next day or, worse still, found days later with their throat´s slit for the want of 10euro that they owe the various parasites who prey on the poverty and neglect of the countries children. It is something I have always wanted to do, a thought that was cemented more with my trip to Peru last year, and is steadily getting stronger as I see the children of South America proper. I just wonder if I would be able for the emotionalism of it all!
On a more personal note, my cousin Patrick is very ill in hospital at the moment. I feel very far away and homesick thinking of him suffering at home while I am still so far away. Patrick has been a fixture in my life since as long as I can remember. He has never missed my birthday, or a Christmas - indeed, for myself and my brother and sisters, he has given us constant attention and love. And, it has been beautiful to see my brother and sisters children drawn to him as much as we were as children, recognising his boundless capacity for patience and interest in the most minute of children´s worlds. I wish that I could be there with him, and with the rest of our family, at this time, and I can only send my constant prayers and thoughts to him in hospital, and hope that he pulls through this awful time. All my love, Patrick, and I hope with all my heart that you will be at home waiting to see all my photos when I get back in June.
Monday, October 29, 2007
Monday, October 22, 2007
Basically, woke up the morning we were due to leave Iguazu with a slight twinge in my belly. Hmmm, I thought. Maybe something to worry about? Not yet....
Had to pack up all our stuff, and say goodbye to a lovely German/Italian bloke called Dario, whom we had dinner with the night before and shared our cultures, and suchlike. Got all our gear, and had a bit of sit down. My stomach gave another little shout at me. I tried to ignore it. Big mistake. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I was the first to succumb to 'travellers tum'!! We had eaten a salad at the restaurant the night before. It was a nice looking place, and I decided to ignore one of my strict travel rules (I had made a few before leaving, in order to be on the safe side - for example, no eating fruit or veg raw unless I washed and prepared it fresh myself; no drinking the water ANYWHERE; no petting dogs or monkeys; no eating from street vendors; etc., etc., you get the picture). Anyway, I broke the rule, and payed for it dearly. Our taxi was due to arrive at 3.30 to take us over the border - we had worked this out with a scamming bitch (sorry to use that word, but she was one!!) at the tourist office in the Puerto Iguazu bus station, as we had to buy our ticket to Florinopolis from this side of the border. She had given us a receipt as to how much the taxi would cost. By the time the taxi arrived, I had finally said goodbye to the hostel toilet (only so that I could seek another one!), and was doubled over with cramps and pain. The two taxis arrived and started telling us that the cost was 100 pesos instead of 80, as the scamming bitch had told us. They refused to take us for less, but finally agreed to 90. I was nearly crying with pain at this stage, and all I wanted to do was get on something settled - like a bus - and lie down. The car was air conditioned, which helped, but we had to get through the Brazilian immigration, which was not. I had to stand in queue for ages in the blistering sunshine, before finally getting the passport stamped with my 90-day pass, and moving into Brazil. I could barely whisper 'Obrigado' to the official before climbing back into the car and leaning over with my head between my legs.
At the bus station in Foz Iguazu, we had another hour and a half to wait for the bus. If you are of a sickly dispositon, then skip this next bit, because it gets kinda gross! For my Mam's sake (she likes to know when I'm sick!), and for the accuracy of a travel diary, I'll include this next bit.... Sitting doubled over leaning on my bag, with sweat pouring off me - not altogether due to the roasting hot day - I suddenly had the urge to look for a loo. As I walked off, I started to feel that all was not right with my stomach. The usual cramps were there, but my throat seemed to be constricting also! I spotted the sign for the toilets - I could feel the spasms in my stomach getting worse...I could......just......make it.....I ran up to the entrance. It was a bloody pay toilet, and I had no Real yet, just my useless Argentinian cash. Oh God! I ran from the toilets towards the open door, as I got halfway there, I began to retch. My instinctive politeness over-rode my physical situation, and I managed to hold it in until I literally got through the door - and right into the taxi rank. Sorry guys! I got sick once there, then stumbled across the parking lot to a grassy area, fell on my hands and knees, and continued to puke for at least five more minutes in the sunshine. And yes, for those who doubted it, I can confirm that it was indeed the salad that had made me ill! I sat out there for a while, in the sunshine, feeling a good deal better. Some people came up to see was I OK, which was very nice of them, I have to say!
Got back inside, able to talk at least! Got onto our bus ready to settle into a 17-hour bus journey to the coast. The bus set off. We'd got cheapish seats, so it wasn't massively comfy, but it was OK. My stomach was still in spasms, but things got immeasurabely worse when the air conditioning broke on the bus, and he drove on, while we gasped for air inside. Eventually he realised that we couldn't continue like that (inhumane, I tell you!!), so he pulled over, and we sat in the 40-degree heat and waited an hour and a half for it to be fixed. So, we continued on our way. Overenthused, perhaps, by the fixing of the air conditioning, he left it on full blast all night, so sleep was nigh-on impossible, what with the constant stomach issues, and the freezing cold air!!
Arrived safe and sound in Florinopolis, though, and made our way out to Barra Lagoa on the Atlantic side of Isla de Santa Catarina, just off the coast of Florinopolis. Our hostel is pretty cool. Right on the beach, and with free boogie boards and surf boards, it's full to the brim with Aussie DDDUUUUDDDDEEESSS and totally BODACIOUS Americans. A bit too rich-kid-surfer-dude-frat-boy for my liking, but they're harmless enough, and good craic!
We got straight in for a swim in the surprisingly cool water, which was pretty refreshing! Had dinner out, then went to our rooms. Alan and I plumbed for a double room this time, leaving the other lads in the dorm. I'm enjoying this little break from the boys club - but I'll be happy to get back to them again also!! Little feckers!!
That night, there was a huge lightening storm over the ocean, and it pounded rain. Pretty spectacular! The next day was bright and sunny, though, so we grabbed surf boards - or, in my case, a boogie board - and hit the beach. We stayed there all day surfing and swimming, then went back to the hostel where they were cooking dinner for everyone - delicious traditional cooking, with plenty of kidney beans and fish (Mam'll be glad to know!). That night, we realised that I had gotten a bit burnt, but that Alan had got COMPLETELY burned!! He was in so much pain! Luckily, I had brought both Aloe Vera gel, and Aloe Vera cream. We stayed out of the sun today - though I did sneak out for a swim during the day! The water was much warmer, and so refreshing!
Heading back now for a poker tournament in the hostel. We're gonna go hunting an apartment tomorrow, because we want to stay on this island for another couple of weeks, and can't afford to stay in a hostel all that time.
Small problems to have, though! Brazil is much more expensive, so we have to try keep within budget. Doing OK so far, but have to keep cooking our own food to keep on top of things. That's fine, though! The sun is shining, the waves are big, the water is warm, and the sand is white. What more could I ask for from life right now?
I'd like to say something in Porteguese, but I've no idea of anything in this language. It's like a mix between German, Japanese, and Spanish! Not gonna try learn it - we'll be back in Spanish-speaking country soon enough!!
Until next time........
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Arrived in Puerto Iguazu at about 4.30 the next day. Good weather, so we were chuffed! Malarial area, so the pills are on board and the deet is out! Our hostel, El Guembe, is bloody beautiful - though frankly, after the night on the roof, a bed is an improvement! But it´s lovely, and the staff are great. Clean, airy, and wonderfully cool - and it has a ping-pong table (it´s becoming a requirement for our trip!). We took it easy, as we were all pretty wrecked after the long journey - just a few cerveza´s (beer) and some ping-pong tournaments....in bed before 1. We got up at 8.00 the next morning and went to the bus station to begin our day in Iguazu National Park. The bus is four pesos each way - just less than a euro - and it takes twenty minutes to get up to the park entrance. There, you see a list of special pricing. Locals are free, as are children under 12, elderly and disabled people. Then there´s a special low price for people from Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay. Next on the ladder are foreigners - we pay 40 pesos! Less than a tenner! This gets you into the WHOLE park - all the waterfalls, free train to take you all over the place, and free boat service to the island caught between the two sections of falls. Unbelievable! And your second day is half price with your ticket! Great!
So, we talked with a wonderfully instructive park guide, who also gave us a voucher for a restaurant - more on that later! - and he advised us that the main baby, Gargantua de Diablo (the Devil´s Throat), is best viewed after 4pm, as the sun is behind you then. So, we took his advice, and strolled down the Lower areas. First up, the Upper Trail, which takes you across about ten waterfalls - some mere feet wide, and some the width of a bus, and all of them uniformly amazing and powerful and awe-inspiring! Check my photos on Bebo for a good view of what we saw first! And these weren´t even the most powerful and biggest part of the trek!! Anyway, from the upper platforms you were above the falls, with water rushing underneath you and huge drops beneath down to the pounded rocks below. Spray billowed in your face at every turn, reminding you that this water was rushing past you at breakneck speed. I´m a fan of waterfalls anyway, but this would have made the most hardened trekker pause for breath!
On the lower trek you go low enough to look upwards at the falls above you, and then take cliff-steps down to the river below, where a free boat takes you to Isla San Martin - an island nestled between the Falls on one side, and the Gargantua de Diablo on the other side. The boat drops you to the sandy beach, and the ever-present roaring of the waterfalls on either side is the only thing that reminds you NOT to take a swim in the blistering sunshine!! Climb more steps to the top of Isla San Martin, and climb across the top to the other side, and you are treated to a sideways view of the biggest of the ´small´falls - here you are REALLY sprayed with vapour as the water rushes by you! Gazing down into the torrents below, it was hard to keep the smile from your face!
After a trip to an all-you-can-eat buffet down at the restaurant recommended by our happy guide (where we made absolute pigs of ourselves - they had a salad counter, a pasta and veg and spuds counter, a veggie counter, a barbeque area (parillo), and a huge dessert counter, with slices of fresh pineapple, melon, papaya, banana, apple, etc. plus cakes and puddings, and EVERYTHING!........and all for 30 pesos (about 8euro)) Wow!
So, happy out, we decided to take the train up the mountain to the Gargantua! After a long ride, squished in with some chubby Americans, we got to the platforms. You have to walk across a series of platforms across the rivers which make up the waterfalls - it was so wide it looked like a huge lake! Bit unnerving looking down and seeing nothing but water below you. Especially when you saw some sunken platforms destroyed by floods in previous times! Eek! And then you got closer, and the water became faster below you! You were sometimes engulfed in the odd foliage break - where islands of forest stood - and were constantly reminded of how wild things were by the signs for snakes, etc. Then you heard it.....a distant roar. At first, it sounds like the other falls, but soon it becomes louder, and you start to get a little nervous. Then you look up ahead, and it was if a hole has opened up in the ´lake´of water around you. If I had to describe it as anything, I would say that it looked like the edge of the earth! The platforms allowed you to look directly down into the abtly named ´Devils Throat´, at the churning waters, the mist, the pounding rapids. My God! What a sight! It was terrifying, mesmerising, and utterly beautiful! My legs were shaking - it was like looking into the abyss! We stayed there for a while, gazing into the falls - feeling happy and excited!
Today, we headed back up again (after buying our tickets for Florinopolis for tomorrow), and paid our half-price in. This time, we headed straight for the boat centre, as we were taking a speed boat into the waterfalls mist. It wasn´t as warm today - but I got burnt yesterday (sorry Mam!), so I was kinda glad of a break from the sun! I wore my bikini under my skirt and top, and wore my crocs, as we thought we might get a bit wet on the boat ride. The lads all wore board-shorts (quick drying swimming shorts), so we felt prepared! Got down there, paid our 50 pesos (about 11 euro), and they gave us each a waterproof bag for our gear. I took off my top, and sat in my bikini top and denim skirt - my crocs are waterproof anyway. The lads all got out of their t-shirts, and put their shoes in the waterproof bag. We set off on the speedboat. First, they asked us who wanted the DVD of the trip - we said yes, so the guy took some shots of us all. Then, the boat went off to the left of Isla San Martin. Cool, we thought. We knew that the boats didn´t got into the Gargantua de Diablo, of course, but we thought we´d get a pretty good view of it! As we rounded the island, the waters became choppy, and there were pretty big heaves in the water - very exciting. We noticed lots of lovely waterfalls along the side of the island as well. And we appeared to be getting closer to one of the bigger looking ones. Then the boat when in practically underneath it!! Water PUMMELLED us!!! Couldn´t get a breath, there was so much water pumping on top of us! Then the boat came out the other side. We were all laughing hysterically!! It sped around the island, and brought us up to the biggest of the other falls. Again, we looked at the pounding water, and mist spraying everywhere, and the boat suddenly plunged into what looked like a washing machine, there was so much turmoil!! Unbelievable! We were just screaming in excitment, and we couldn´t stop laughing. Then he pulled out again, and sped back under the water a second time! We were just pounded with water!! We couldn´t stop laughing, and we were all completely dripping wet! But happy!!
We headed up to the all-you-can-eat again, and sat in wet clothes for a while! There´s a different part of the trail, which goes into the jungle, and it´s a bit dodgy, because of pumas and cougars around there, but it ends in a waterfall that you can swim in the bottom of, so we decided to hike it. It took about an hour of trekking to get there, but it was exciting! Didn´t see a big cat, but saw plenty of tapirs and possums and all sorts - and even some monkeys!!! Brilliant!
Got to the end of it, and trekked down through the trees to the bottom of a 70 foot waterfall. The pool wasn´t great looking, and the day was colder, so the lads decided that they didn´t really want to swim. But I wasn´t letting the opportunity pass me by! I got into my bikini (left my crocs on - could be rocks), and tested the water depth with a stick, then jumped in. Pretty cold! Then I climbed up the rocks under the waterfalls, and stood under it. Like being pelted with stones! But in a good way......!! Most refreshing thing I´ve ever done! Then the lads decided that, actually, they WOULD rather like it! So we swam, miles from anyone, with no disturbance from people - except for a few other hikers, who laughed at as, but didn´t get in. Brilliant! Then we hiked back and returned to the hostel!
The DVD is being dropped in soon, so I´m gonna head back to collect that, and we can watch it on Welly´s laptop! I´d say we all look pretty ´uncool´in it - screaming and laughing as we probably were!! But it´ll be brilliant to see it!
Heading over to Foz Iguazu tomorrow, on the Brazilian side, and do our immigration stuff, then getting the 18 hour bus to Florinopolis overnight, then getting out of the city to Isla de Santa Catarina on the coast, where we´ve a hostel booked for the first three nights, after which we´re finding a hut on the beach to spend a few weeks soaking up the sun.
Bring on Brazil!!
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Arrived last night after a 6 hour bus journey - not as comfortable as the other ones - to our hostel in a dark and dodgy part of town. To be told that, unfortunately, due to a Women´s Convention being held in the town, it being the Argentine bank holiday (Columbus Day), and Oktoberfest happening in the vicinity, not only was there no room in THIS hostel, but no room in CORDOBA!! Talk about feeling Mary and Joseph´s pain........(is that blasphemous??)
So, we felt slightly panicked at the thought of either a night on the streets (which, in this part of town, looked none too appealing), or heading back to the bus station to wait it out till morning and try change our tickets to Iguazu for Sunday rather than Monday. But, luckily, the hippie spirit lives on in Argentina more than anywhere else in the world! Viktor, our wonderful hostel owner, told us we could sleep on the roof! Yes, the roof.
So, we dragged ourselves inside with backpacks on backs, then proceeded to follow him up a very rickity step-ladder (let me remind you that my bag is very bloody heavy!!) onto the flat room four floors up. There, we discovered some French fellow travellers who had also found no room at the preverbial inn. We stood around for a while, wondering how much colder the night would get and if it would rain, when Viktor arrived back up to the roof with a tent! Albeit a small, old and fairly un-waterproof tent - but a tent nonetheless! So, we ´pitched´it - as close as you could get to ´pitching´on a flat concrete roof! It was a three man tent, but they must have been midgets who designed it....
Next thing, Viktor arrives back up with a load of sleeping bags - but we said we already had some, so it was cool. Then Viktor and the Frenchies set up a barbeque on corner of the roof - basically a pile of coals with an old bed-springs thingy over it. Some wine and beer was brought up, and for 15 pesos we were given all the cherizo we could eat, with bread and salads galore, and all the wine we could drink (which, in Bones and McMunn´s case, turned out to be a lot!). We met some great lads from France, a few Cordobians, and even some Canadians - what a party! Great fun. Then came the sleeping....myself and Alan hit the sack (roof?) at about 1, but Bones and McMunn tripped the light fandango at some Cordobian nightclubs with the Frenchies. We were comfortably enough ensconsed - apart from the cold, stoney, uneven ground beneath us - when McMunn returned, full of vino, and talking Spanish to us.....wooo. McMunn decided to sleep outside with his sleeping bag wrapped around his head. Nice. Bones arrived back a couple of hours later, and squashed himself in beside us, draping his hands ever so gently around Alan. And so we slept, cozy as......well....COZY! This morning, Viktor woke us with news of tea, coffee and bread downstairs for us!! What a gent!!
When we got down, the heaters were on, cozy little set up, and we chatted over breakfast, learning even more ´everyday´Spanish for our troubles! Then Viktor showed us a matress and bed in the utility room, where myself and Alan will spend tonight, so the two lads will be more comfortable in the tent......McMunn might even sleep INSIDE tonight!! And still he won´t take a penny from us for the sleeping arrangements......!
Nothing but respect and admiration for the people of Argentina! We´ve met with nothing but hospitality and friendship in this country.....and even had the adventure of sleeping on a roof for the night.
We´re calling it ´urban camping´. We think it´ll catch on........
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Anyway, Oktoberfest - the big beer festival in Germany - has it's twin in a town just below Cordoba, so we'll have some fun there before heading out to Iguazu on Monday. We met an Irish couple - Rob and Fiona - here the last few nights, and they went to Cordoba today, so we'll see them there tomorrow night for a few bevvies. Also, an Aussie guy travelling alone has tagged along with them, and has made himself our 'brother', so we're meeting him too. He's a cool guy - Chris (we call him Chris Meth), but a little bit hyper-hippie. Good laugh, though!
McMunn and Bones are really flying the flag downstairs! The lads love them - McMunn thinks he's fluent in Spanish when he gets drunk, so they think he's a legend! Him and Bones are exchanging words with them, and learning all the 'street' lingo en espanol! Also, McMunn swapped a tshirt....all in the name of international relations!!
Cordoba next. Glad to leave Cool Raul hostel in Rosario - hope the next place has locks on the door (we can dream, eh?!?).....