Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Another glacier?

Our day at El Calafate started with an alternative tour bus tour. This bus takes the rough back roads to the Perito Moreno glacier, to try to avoid the heavy tourist routes.

It stopped at a farm that used to raise sheep but now lives on tourism with a wide range of animals roaming about including sheep, lambs, goats, a guanaco, a fox and some cats. The fox was so used to tourists he wandered about hamming it up even chasing his own tail at one stage.

Then we got to a spot where the bus dropped us off and we walked through the bush for 40 minutes to the catamaran that took us to the glacier. This is one of only 3 glaciers slightly growing of the 48 in the Patagonian area (80 % of all glaciers are shrinking). As such it is constantly being pushed from behind so that bits fall off regularly. During our time we saw 3 huge chunks crack with a sound like thunder. Lunch came next at a specially constructed maze of steps and platforms, these platforms were huge allowing you to view the glacier from different spots and heights. We spent most of the afternoon staring at this massive glacier with a surface area bigger than Buenos Aires city and 180 metres deep.

At night after gorging on Patagonian lamb at a barbeque restaurant we went to a free concert that came complete with market stalls in the little town that doesn't seem to sleep. We did though as we had a 5:15 wake up to get to our walking on the glacier excursion the next day.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Torres Del Pain(e)

 13th to 16th Feb

As we headed to Torres del Paine the signs were ominous. The closer we got the colder it got in the unheated truck. I started with thermal long johns, pants, short sleeve thermals, shirt and jacket. I will call this defcon 5. Then at regular intervals we moved up the levels.
Defcon 4 - gloves went on
Defcon 3 - beanie went on
Defcon 2 - jumper went on under my jacket.

Our Tent
I could not get to defcon 1 (long sleeve thermals) until we got to the campsite, but once at that level I stayed in the same clothes for the next 4 days. I have not camped for at least 30 years, and that was in sunny Perth. So how did I get in this situation? Well Elizabeth did apparently tell the travel agent that I don't do camping but when going through the documents I found the camping component and pointed it out. Elizabeth held her breath worrying about my reaction but I said 'why not, the whole idea of this trip is to not say no', big mistake.

Mummy can we go back to Rio

With temps near 0 every night I had a sleeping bag inside a sleeping bag and dressed at defcon 1. It is highly unlikely I will ever camp again, and big tip, batteries don't like extreme cold. My phone would go flat by 2am and I did not know why but by the last night I had the idea to leave it in my pocket all night and it was still charged by morning. Camera batteries also seemed to die quicker, and by morning everybody's bladders are busting as nobody wants to go to the loo in the dark (the electric generators are turned off at midnight).

Happy Valentine´s Day after 4 hours and 9 km

Apart from that it was magic.
Day 2 was the towers walk, 9 km up a varied terrain including cliff edges, beautiful forests, rickety bridges and finally scrambling over big boulders and scree, the view is amazing as you are surrounded by snow topped mountains and with a lake perched between them. It was snowing up there while still fine down below. It took 4 hours up and the same back down. Once at the top and we perched ourselves under a boulder and ate our packed lunches drinking in the scenery. The day we did this? Valentine´s Day.

The Grey Glacier from our boat.
Day 3 was the Grey Glacier boat trip. Like most of the glaciers in Patagonia this glacier is shrinking and it was important to us to see it in its full glory before climate change reduces it further. It was huge, in 4 different sections and way over our heads. Each section had a different texture, from smooth, to jagged to looking like marshmallow, I even saw a bit break off and fall into the water.

Day 4 was pack up time but we whiled away the last 2 hours in this Shangri la with an early morning horse back ride through the forest with the snow capped mountains for our scenery. This is only the second time I have ridden a horse, the first time being with my kids when they were littlies. The horse I got then was called Rambo and he was definitely in charge. The horse I got here was gentle, if not a little timid and gave me a lovely ride, except for when I blew my nose and scraped a sign when he would do a little gallop as he got spooked. Straight after the ride we all hopped in the truck and set off to our next destination.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

From Rio to the end of the world

9th to 13th Feb 

After the flying day from hell (4am start, missed connection, 5 hour airport sits blah blah blah) we went from 38 degrees in Rio to a warm sunny day in Ushuaia of 11 degrees. Southernmost city in the world and commonly called the end of the world. FYI, you are often told that the South American culture is slower so expect delays. They are not joking, especially at airports, sit back and relax and expect things to go wrong, they will.

The view from our hotel room at dusk
First day here we took a catamaran on the Beagle Channel and saw cormorants and seals and stopped off at spots with breathtaking views of the snow topped mountains. The air and seas are so clear and fresh.

Along the first trail

The next day was optional trek through the Torres del Fuego national park. We decided to do trails 1 AND 2, because we thought one was just not enough. 13+ km of mountainous trekking virtually all of it steeply up or down through the forest. My legs are aching and I am expecting to take several days to recover.

The view from the bottom

Our transport for the next 20 days

The final day began our 13 hr truck drive (not a bus) along rough and dusty roads to Chile. This included a 2 hour ordeal getting through the border with a near disaster as one of our party (not us) had undeclared bananas. Had lunch on the side of the road. We finally arrived in Punta Arenas, luggage covered in dust, at 9pm. The next day was a visit to the Magellan Penguins as they came in from the ocean in the afternoon. Cute little munchkins. The next day was another truck trip to our camping adventure at Torres del Paine (pain?)...

Lunch by the side of the road

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Where did that guide go?

Hmm, I think we are starting to get the reputation of people requiring tracking devices.

Let me start at the beginning. The trip to Rio was by mini bus and let me tell you, every trip in Brazil has been an adventure of its own. The roads are winding, rough, often near cliffs and they only have 2 speeds, dangerously fast and stopped. Be prepared to hang onto your stuff. Rio itself is busy with many tunnels connecting the various parts of the city together scattered between the mountains. This city gives the impression it is bursting at the seams, the traffic is insane.

The Favellas
So one of our first activities in one of the most dangerous cities (number 8) in the world was a tour through one of the most dangerous parts of the city, the Favellas, a slum area only recently taken back by the police from the drug lords. Complete with pointed out bullet holes. These people are really poor, the area is built mostly by its own inhabitants by building one floor and then selling the roof. Those people build a floor and then sell their roof. Slowly a hotch potch building on dodgy foundations, on the side of a mountain is built. Collapses through landslides are one of the likely and often consequences.


Child Care Centre
We were supposed to get to the top by local motor cycle, the common mode of transport through this steep narrow suburb. Unfortunately and ominously we were unable to travel this way as the police had decided today to do a crackdown and the entrance at the bottom of the hill was full of the military checking helmet rules etc. Most of the locals did not pass muster. The mini bus driver took us as far as he could. From there it was on foot down a very slippery, dirty and cracked narrow path of stairs and slopes over often open sewer lines meeting the locals.

I was initially concerned that this tour was a bit disrespectful like viewing monkeys in a zoo, but it soon became clear that tourists are an important source of income for these people, and more often than not I felt like the rat in a maze. First stop were these young local artists with their works for sale, the influence of their situation apparent in paintings with graffiti walls in them, military references etc but also showing a lot of hope and colour. Second stop were some local young musos putting on a show with recycled paint can bongo drums and a little kid of 5 or so dancing, they passed around a bucket afterwards for tips. Third stop was a deli with cakes and puddings and everybody tried something. I shared a pudding of aceia berries, about the only thing that looked gluten free, with Elizabeth. Fourth stop was like a makeshift market selling local bracelets and the like.

A backyard complete with chickens
The guide then showed us where the drug lord used to watch out for the police, pointing out bullet holes, and I stopped to take a photo. When we turned around the group had already taken off so we took off after them. Turning a bend we could not see them anymore and there were two paths. We gestured to some women sitting there as to direction and an authoritative lady pointed left so we took off. Disconcertingly she started following us and it soon became clear that they did not go this way. The lady kept talking to us but we could not understand and headed down towards what seemed like the exit. We debated going back to find the others, knowing they would be really worried about us by now, but I thought the likelihood of getting lost was high, so we persevered through a maze of market stalls and came out where we started. The lady had given up on us by this stage as we had stopped listening concerned she was trying to lead us into trouble. We stayed put, hoping our group would find us before they sent out a search party. Eventually they came out, having doubled back several times to try to find us. So all ended well and we were a source of lively humour for several days, with a suggestion that we name this part of our blog ¨We survived the murder capital of the world in the most murderous part¨.

Christ the redeemer from the botanical gardens
Don't be discouraged by our experience as visitors are important for the favella community. The lady was probably just trying to show us the way out and at no point was anyone threatening to us, most people were friendly. Big tip, stay near the front of the group :-) We did do the normal tourist things as well such as visit 'Christ the redeemer' (huge), take the cable car to Sugarloaf Mountain (breathtaking views), and went to a soccer match of Brazil's 2 top teams, but trying to get a bit deeper into the countries we visit than the norm is the aim of the trip. It is estimated that 1 million people live in favellas in Rio. This place and most of South America has opened our eyes to how well off and how spoilt we are in Australia but going on happiness and friendliness money does not mean much. We may be broke by the end of the year but if life is a collection of experiences then we may be well in front.

 Last night in Rio and with this tour group. What was left of our tour group snuck into the closed pool area on the top of our hotel roof to celebrate this portion of our trip and say goodbyes.

Hasta luega amigos.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Ola Brazil

4th February

Had an absolutely magical day in a little Brazilian coastal town called Paraty yesterday. Spent the day exploring the charm of the old section and then went to the beach and had a swim in the bathtub warm waters.

That night we had dinner with a local family, one of the oldest in the town still living in the old section. We gorged on an incredible array of food, including black beans, cassava flour, chicken, beef, sausages, a very creamy potato salad, rice, salads and all washed down with what seems to be their national drink, caipirinha. This is a sugar cane rum, drunk straight, with pieces of lime, ice and sugar to make it palatable.

In our defence we had been forced to drink caipirinha´s
After dinner we had dress ups in old period clothes. Not sure if this is a regular pastime or just designed to make fun of tourists. Elizabeth liked her dress so much she kept it on and we had difficulty getting it off her when we left. Our host Wado, an artist with his varied works displayed downstairs, brought out a guitar and in a soulful voice sang local songs and songs we know like Joe Cocker´s Unchain my Heart. A book was passed around for us to leave a message for the family. I wrote 'A comida esta deliciosa' (the food is delicious) and under my name our tourist guide added 'and sorry for eating your dog' (also in Portuguese, the language of Brazil). Elizabeth wrote 'thank you for making me feel 8 years old again in your pretty dress'.

I cannot emphasise how useful it can be to know some phrases in the native language. As we left I thanked the host in Portuguese for a delicious meal  and we suddenly became friends, hands around my shoulder we chatted for 10 minutes about our respective countries. I use a free app I downloaded called 'Tourist language learn and speak' which currently has 58 languages with common phrases you can read or hear.

Afterwards they were having a free samba concert in the main square, which did not start until 11pm. We wiled away our time beforehand by just sitting on a park bench watching the families having fun, myriad dogs playing, children running around throwing glow sticks in the air, such a fantastic family atmosphere. In the end the concert was an anticlimax as I enjoyed watching the people more. It was a half hour walk back to the hotel and we got lost. So here we were in a foreign town, late at night wandering through back streets. With hand on tripod (in case I needed a weapon) we retraced our steps until we hit a familiar landmark. No problems ensued, the people here are quite friendly and we got home just after midnight, exhausted but very happy with our holiday choices thus far (thanks Harvey World Travel and GAP Tours).

Ate depois amigos

Thursday, February 9, 2012

OMG Iguazu!!!!

1st to 2nd of February

Wow, there are not enough adjectives in the English language to describe the day I just had at Iguazu Falls. Mother nature sure outdid herself here. First impressions made me think of Jurassic Park. The day started with the speed boat run at the falls. If they say you will get a bit wet then that is an understatement, we got a lot wet! They pushed the boat twice so far into one of the falls (Iguazu is HUGE with tons of falls), that it is like a shower on full bore, we were soaked. The day proceeded by the use of set walking trails and park train to the many different parts of the falls for some absolutely awe inspiring, captivating, hard to pull yourself away from views, culminating at the 'devil´s throat'. We spent the whole day there and you will need that at least. The boat ride is mandatory, you have got to do it, it´s brilliant. It is hot, hot, hot here so be prepared for a long steamy day with lots of walking, but it is worth it. One of the seven natural wonders of the world and after this I want to see the other six this year. I have some amazing pictures but I did not take my phone so may not be able to upload any until April.

Brazil Side - Day 2

Brazil Side - Day 2
Day 2 - Yesterday was at the Argentinian side of the falls and today we went to the Brazilian side. For sheer splendour of the breadth and depth of the falls this could not be beat. While the Argentinian side lets you get up close and personal, this side gets panoramic. It is like a wall of waterfalls going on for kms. To get Elizabeth away from them I practically had to fling her over my shoulder. They have walkways going out so that you have waterfalls underneath you and all around you as far as you can see and you get soaked from the spray.

Hasta luego amigos

Friday, February 3, 2012

One nearly perfect day and the little camera that tried...

Jan 28th.

We took a bus trip to Tigre today and then a boat along the Parana River Delta. This is a system of over 5000 waterways like arteries pumping blood and littered with islands built naturally of sediment. This place was amazing, a whole community living just off the water isolated from most of the mainland with shopping, ambulance and hospital boats, primary and high schools. It is littered with dead boats giving it atmosphere and teeming with all kinds of live boats from catamarans to rowing boats, jetskis to speed boats. Very interesting and enjoyable journey, the first picture is of a shopping boat.

We went to the gym in the afternoon and had a lovely dinner at a local restaurant. I ordered risotto as I thought I should be safe with rice but it came with what looked like noodles, luckily I was able to swap with Elizabeth as her dish was just chicken and potatoes. In the evening we sat in the park opposite the hotel and watched an impromptu drum performance with dancers. This seems to be a dog park as owners and their dogs were everywhere and added to the relaxing and captivating atmosphere. Elizabeth said "in the brochures they say you might see dancing in the streets but you dismiss it as typical tourist speak but then here we are with dancing in the park". See video below of the drummers, I have a better one including the dancers but it is on my camera and not my phone.

Why only a nearly perfect day? I had my camera on a tripod trying to capture the atmosphere when the drummers suddenly filled the air with music, I twisted around to look and tripped the tripod which fell lens first into the ground. The poor thing has been dying anyway with a dodgy battery connection somewhere but this did not help. Regardless it won't let go and still wants to take photos. The little lens crunches, pops and whirs trying to come out. Sometimes it succeeds but sometimes it gives up and I get an error message. Similarly when I zoom it will crunch away and not always make it to full zoom. I have gotten very affectionate towards this little camera that wants to keep taking pictures and is still succeeding 5 times out of 10. But I will need a new one before Iguazu Falls as that is not when you need a camera to die. I think I will keep it though and display it somewhere.

Some Miscellaneous Moments of the rest of our time in Buenos Aires.

Elizabeth enjoying an Apple Pie at a very swish  cafe (Cafe Tortoni the oldest cafe in Buenos Aires). I almost decided it was worth making me sick to have one myself.

One of these bottles of Whisky was $50 and one was $18, any guesses for which one?

What passes as buskers at a famous market that is held every Sunday at San Telmo.

We successfully worked out the subway. Woo hoo.

Elizabeth getting a tango lesson at Complejo Tango.

Real tango dancers in a show after the lesson at the same place.