Monday, January 29, 2007

The Journey thus far!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Home sweet home....???

Well we didn't quite find our way back to NZ just yet...
We were tired, that much is true. Stopping for even 5, 6 and 7 days in any one location wasn't quite cutting it. It's amazing how being on the road for 4 months can make you crave a bit of routine and stability - two of the very things that travelling gives a welcome respite from!
The fact remained that although we needed a break and a bit of 'real life' time there was still a lot left undone. I for one wanted to keep on travelling, at least just a bit longer. It provides such confronting episodes and events that you can't help but grow as a person. That said I was also bursting at the seams with writing ideas and projects...and needed to let them free in more than just my journal!
...And where better to stop for 3 weeks, enroll in Spanish school for some further tuition and have the space, time and tools to write than in San Telmo.
San Telmo is Buenos Aires' oldest suburb. It is stacked with historic buildings, criss-crossed by cobbled, tree lined lanes fronted by antique stores and inhabited by writers, artists and artisans. I can see why artists are drawn to areas like this. The beauty, history, the mere aesthetics alone are inspiring! The place has an energy that breeds creativity.
I may be a little too utopian in my writing...suffice to say we like San Telmo...a lot. It feels great to be here and it's put a spin on BA that we hadn't expected.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Em's Update!

2007 eh?! Hope you all managed to see it arrive in good form...same goes for Christmas too!

More Pics!

So, this is the 3rd update of the South American pilgrimage and as I recall on the one prior, I promised tales of highland trekking, sandboarding and surfing. I will not disappoint and will even further add to that exciting list with poisoning, armed robbery, and street riots.

Let me begin in Cuzco, Peru. Its November the 29th, 2006 and we have just completed a surprisingly difficult Inca Trail to the Machu Picchu. We had initally decided to go it alone to those most famous Inca Ruins being rugged Kiwi´s and hardened travellers, however we opted for an excellent deal where
a swift and efficient team of Porters carry your food and tents on the "actual" trail and an expert Guide broadens the experience with interesting and eyebrow raising facts and anecdotes. Or, more accurately, we´re not that rugged...I mean I´m carrying dresses and bikinis for the beach in my pack for goodness sake...
Anyway, the Trail was not easy by any stretch of the word. I was very happy to hear, at the end of each day, even the whipper snappers (people under 25) were complaining about the 10,000 steps we had to climb and the ol´ knees taking a serious beating. I was probably having a harder roe to hoe however since I
was unable to eat a lot or even keep down what I could consume due to a severe stomach nasty I most likely contracted through the consumption of San Pedro cactus juice (thick green slime is a more apt description) at a Sharman ceremony just two days before.
I was advised it would help open my mind to other senses than just the basic five most humans only know of and thus begin to receive vast amounts of knowledge to help ask all those unanswered questions. Like you Im sure, I believed this might be quite a trip and telepàthy would be a fairly cool sense to possess so I went in guns blazing....however the only sense I managed to gain was the one of feeling like I was going to throw up at any time mixed in with the occasional fit of giggles...

At the end of the day though, or should I say trail, I was a very happy camper and the Machu Picchu itself was quite extraordinary. Even despite the fact there is no actual documented history and much of the information about it is gained through fanciful stories. One of the more well known fables is that it served as a holiday retreat for the rich and famous Incas where they indulged in women, sacrifice, and whatever else one does on holiday in the 1500s. Naughty!

Ok, so moving on, my appetite back with a vengence, we shot through to Nazca then on up to Huacachina for the dune buggy riding and sandboarding, which proved to be a little harder than it looked and more fun to lie flat on the board and go torpedo style down a 300ft sand dune. Then finally we reached the coast and the Pacific Ocean was a beautiful sight for 12-hour-bus-riden-weary eyes. Huanchaco was our first stop and the best in my books. Laid back, friendly locals, fresh daily catch and good waves.
Further north was the more tourist driven Mancora, where machismo and teeny weenie bikini´s were more of a regularity. It did however possess a fabulous golden beach on which I could enjoy some running....or so I thought, as here, during a late afternoon jog not far from the crowds, I came face to face with a local, wielding a rusty old knife that would have made Mick Dundee proud. I called him every name under the sun and refused to had over the IPOD mini for a little while hoping to attract some attention from anyone nearby but in the end It was getting a little creepy hearing him saying "you´ll die"over and over again and I gave it up. So needless to say, Peru has prob been my least favourite country visited to date but a South American experience isnt complete without a robbery at knife-point.

It wasnt until mid December by the time we reached Equador and headed for the capital Quito to base ourselves and plan our next move. Its no mystery that this country has been riddled with political and economic turmoil in the past so I wasnt taking anything for granted here. However, I found the place very chilled-out and a lot of fun and could have easily stayed here a while as a few other travellers we met were doing just that. Even the street riot we found ourselves in the middle of wasnt at all threatening...the students and police kept their amunition such as rocks, bottles, molotov cocktails, and tear gas directed towards to eachother leaving passers-by unaffected.

Yes I know, Ive saturated you with stories on this one so I´ll sign off now and hopefully haven´t put you off reading any future emails as there is more to come.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Fishin´ boats in Punta del Diablo


Our camera unfortunately has had some travelling probs of it´s own! Sorry about the lack of photos. Here is one I pinched off the web showing the boats on the beach at Punta del Diablo...

For Surf my friends!

Arriving into a place at night is always a drag. Trying to find a place to rest your weary head without really knowing exactly where you are and how far you are from where you think you want to be - and more importantly where you in fact should be!
At least in Uruguay you don´t need to worry so much about the dangers of the night.
A short stroll from the bus terminal to central La Paloma had us laying our heads in a hotel that was too expensive, too noisy and too hot!
If nothing else though it compelled us to get up and moving and out the door to explore the beaches and find lodgings close to the surf.
We soon realised La Paloma is a sprawling town with at least 7 beaches to choose from! More trudging in the heat had us backtracking (again!) to tourist information for the 411.
And so we discovered that:
- Costa Azul is where we wanted to be
- Taxis are nearly as cheap as buses for local trips
And Mastercard is accepted everywhere and has the only flaymin´ ATM´s in town (and across most of Uruguay) Luckily neither Em nor I had a mastercard/cirrus affiliated card and so we spent several days fluffing around trying to get money from the bank on our Visa!
I´m sure Mastercard fought hard for the lucrative Uruguayan market...congratulations! (Hell even the street signs are sponsored by the ´maestro´ of cards!)
I found myself riding a ten foot long board - great fun...and damn hard to get out when the waves pick up!
Virtually no-one here rides mals or mini-mals and when you do they assume that you need lessons because long boards are for beginners, geriatrics and people with special needs. (NOTE: Please no comments about my lack of surfing skill in relation to the above comments) ;-)
Short boards rule the waves here even though the waves to my mind are better suited to the big wood.
A big positive is that we finally ahd a place with our own kitchen, cooking facilities and even a wood barbeque outside! We succeeded in creating (with a bit of difficulty!) a decent Parrilla and cooked some of the best BBQ food ever tasted (i suppose you just had to be there...) even including bread, bangers and T-sauce to proceed the enormous slabs of Uruguayan beef!

Uruguay by bus...Punta del Diablo


Uruguay by bus looks a lot like home...home with palm trees.
Lush and green. Pastures with fences, sheep and whole lot of cattle.
Punta del Diablo. A sleepy fishing village by winter and rustic getaway for Uruguayans and Brazilians by summer. It could be our favourite place in South America so far. Good (and cheap!) meat, excellent beer and friendly locals make it an easy place to forget about time and while away days, or I´m sure weeks and months. The pristine beaches and rugged scenery complete the package.
The area is also home to that one national park. More historical than natural, with an 18th Century (mas o menos!) stone fortress begun by the Portuguese and captured and finished by the Spanish. In excellent condition (it looks just like a bought one!) it is stunningly beautiful as a masonic marvel and more so when silhouetted against the backdrop of emerald fields, clear, open turqouise sky and brilliantly beaming golden sun.
An ´easy hike´ there was anything but in the heat of the summer sun and the walk back on tired legs and having run out of water was even less so. After a good 6 hours and having experienced the difficulties of hitchhiking in Uruguay (they must take car pooling seriously...no one has free space!) for some reason those physiology lessons on heat exhaustion and rhabdomyolsis began to spring forth from the ol´ memory banks.
When we finally rounded on a sign leading to the ´Mirador´ (lookout) we thought we were nearly home and hosed (having passed the Mirador on the way to the Fort).
Little did we know that there are two lookouts in the Park, and the one we eventually ended up at was seemingly in the middle of nowhere and was the guard station for a very surprised Uruguayan soldier keeping a lookout over a communications tower!
Back tracking is pretty gutting but eventually we found ourt way to a campsite with water, ice cream and best of all a short track to the beach, and it turned out that we were a lot closer to Punta del Diablo than we thought.
Fine Uruguayan Pilsener and an enormous slab of meat quickly righted the weary minds and bodies!
We were lucky enough to run into a Brazilian couple on the way to Punta del Diablo who had a spare bed at their cabin for a few nights (as the place was packed and it was impossible to find accomodation). We were even luckier that they were great people and we had an excellent few days chin wagging and waxing lyrical in the way that only travelling kiwis can!
Thanks heaps Jorge and Ro!
Despite the place being packed it still retains it´s unique character. There is little in the way of amenities outside a few cafes and general stores (no banks etc) and the accomodation is truly rustic. Local fisherman ply their trade over the winter and then rent out their cabins for the summer to holiday makers. Bare concrete floors, thatched rooves - it´s tranquil and laid back in the best way. Simple without being trying and basic without being uncomfortable. A place where you can go to bed kissed by the sun, wearied by the surf and numbed by a few golden lagers only to wake up with sand still on your feet, ready and willing to do it all over again!

Friday, January 05, 2007

Uruguay

Uruguay has one small national park - one that seems to have little going on in the way of wildlife. All the large land animals (save for the odd Rhea racing across the north western planes) have all but disappeared and this small, flat country wedged between Brazil and Argentina consists of sheep and cattle farms. Not surprisingly the gaucho culture is strong here (try and find anyone strolling without their thermos and ´mate´ gourd) and the beef is good and plentiful here.
Thanks to an economic meltdown Uruguay is a cheap place to travel and despite it not having the archealogical monuments of Peru, sex and samba of Brazil or the natural wonders of Bolivia and Ecuador, it does have beautiful beaches, rugged coastline, tranquil towns and town folk who are laid back and eager to help without the brash arrogance that you can encounter at times with some of their Argentinian cousins.

Torres

Less laid back than Floripa´s eastern beaches. Hotels, shops and plenty of people make for a lively little summer town. Surprisingly good waves are disconcertingly brown, lending the beach the look of a giant chocolate mixer. A pleasant stop in a town that could be Tauranga without the more clear waters of the Mt was a pleasant stop but not enough to take our attention from getting off the beaten track on the beaches of next stop - Uruguay!

South and Onwards...


Florianopolis on the island of Santa Catarina lives up to it´s reputation having some pleasant sights for the lads (and probably ladies too!..) and the beaches are pretty darn good too!
With sun, sand and surf we felt more than a little at home for our Xmas at Praia do Santinho. Salad, rotisserie chicken, bread and beer...and a plate of xmas cookies to add a little cheer to the season. Surfing was the order of the day/s and the small swell was enough to sate the kiwi appetite for the water. Floripa is great, we are finding that heading South things are becoming more like home and so it can be hard to wax lyrical when it feels so familiar but nonetheless Floripa is great, cool, tranquil and beautiful.

Rio! Brazil

I´m not sure if it´s a whole lot hotter here or if the air conditioning is worse but given the step up in quality (and price!) of our room I would guess the former!
The step up in wealth is plainly evident in Ipanema and Copacabana where muscled bods and expired goods alike wear teeny tiny shorts or even smaller bikinis and seem to lazily stroll to and from the beach to who knows where...and back again!
It would be easy to say ´hey it´s not all that great´ and to be a naysayer to all the guide books, travel mags and the Cariocas (Rio dwellers) themselves who tell you that Rio is one of the most beautiful cities on Earth. But I won´t...standing under the outstretched arms of Cristo Redentor and overlooking the sprawling metropolis you juts have to agree. With white sand beaches lining the shore and stretching as far as the eye will take you, and beautiful parks and architecture - all in stunning detail under a clear blue sky and beaming sun, it is just beautiful.
Of course from up there you can´t see the the abject poverty that makes Brazil (one of the worlds largest economies) such a dicotomous state where the gap between the ´haves´ and ´have nots´ is unparalleled.
With one of the highest murder rates of any place (more than one per hour), the desperation of the favelas and slums makes Rio one of the most dangerous cities on the planet. Perhaps that has in part driven some of the famous energy into Rio and it´s culture?
Who wouldn´t want to drink, samba, laugh and talk the night away when it may be your last?
As for the streets around the beaches of Ipànema and Copacabana (the places that most tourists...including us, see) the vibe is positively european. Big glasses, gilded handbags, surgically stretched and tightened skin and prices on a par with home, you could be forgiven for thinking you sre strolling the more well heeled streets of any European capital.
Not relaxing per se...there are far too many people for that, but not harrowingly so, unlike many of the less developed locales along our path. Tourism is big business but in a city of 11 million it´s far from the biggest or only, and it shows in the attitude - not hassling you for your custom, but happy for it nonetheless.

Guayquil

Hot, sweaty, hustling and bustling...but succesfully wrestling it´s reputation as a dangerous and violent port city. Ecuadors largest metropolis is a pleasant stop although too chaotic for me as a destination in and of itself.
Guayquil has transformed it´s once infamous waterfront from a din of crime and inequity into a wonderful breezy, tree lined promenade. Heavily planted, peopled and most importantly policed.
Parque Bolivar swarms with fearless iguanas who happily allow people to stroke, poke and prod them and attempt to stare down smnall children for their lunches while squirrels scamper from the trees to pilfer what they can from their dinosaurian park mates!