A Travellerspoint blog

Day 26 to 28 - Cusco, Peru

Pan-Pipes & Papier-mâché

semi-overcast 24 °C

We arrived in Lima late in the night and spent one night at a hostel. We had no real desire to stay in Lima as we had Cusco and Machu Picchu waiting for us. We caught another plane early the next morning to Cusco, totally unprepared for the altitude sickness that was to set in. As soon as I exited the airport, I was out of breath, walking with my backpack to the taxi. Sam and I collapsed into the taxi and I couldn’t help but laugh...and that didn’t help.

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We made our way to our hostel and went in search for some coca candies, which apparently helps with the altitude sickness. It helped a bit but my mouth felt like a Coca processing plant. We signed up for a Mayan Ruins tour which would take us to the large Ruins, which I didn’t realise, most were in the city itself or just surrounding it. All the climbing and walking was exhausting but these sites were awesome. To actually see and feel the preciseness of the cutting and placement of the stones to build these ancient temples was amazing.

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Sam looked how I felt next to me, peaceful

Cusco was apparently the place to go out at night but with our bodies being held hostage by the altitude, we were gone after a glass of wine. We decided to leave Cusco the next afternoon but not after checking out a festival in the main square. To this day I still don’t know what it was for but it looked like it was a tribute to the Ancient Mayan God of Papier-mâché Animals.

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I remember being the most relaxed I had been on the whole trip in the taxi ride between Cusco and Ollantaytambo. The driver was playing some kind of Peruvian music with sting instruments and of course, Peruvian pan-pipes as we drove through mountains and valleys that reminded me of our drive across the Andes. Sam looked how I felt next to me, peaceful, as if I was in the part of a movie where the lead character reflects on everything that’s happened so far in the movie. Maybe I was just starting to relax again as we descended and the altitude sickness subsided or maybe I was OD’ing on Coca sweets.

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Posted by Al Jam 15:07 Archived in Peru Tagged peru cusco Comments (0)

Day 23 to 25 - Iguazu Falls

...And a bit of Colonia, Uruguay.

overcast 28 °C

My memory of this bus trip was that as soon as the bus pulled away from BA station, some guy at the back lit up a cigarette (or was it some girl that looked like a guy?). Anyways, Sam was not going to stand for it and told the co-driver, who promptly threw the guy out while the bus was moving, and that was that.

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You will never book flights again Al...Not on my watch!

We awoke to green. Green Jungle. No more mountains, no more metropolises, just jungle. We were on the eastern side of Aregentina and heading towards Iguaza Falls, which spans across the Argentine/Brazilian border. It was hot and humid and lucky for us, the Iguazu YHA hostel had a pool. It was more like a resort than a hostel. We spent the next 2 days just chilling out. It was our first day in a long time where we just sat in a hostel doing nothing. That was quickly shattered when I realised that I had booked our flights to Peru a day early. We quickly sorted that out but not after a few “You will never book flights again Al...Not on my watch!” from Sam. Surprisingly for such a well known tourist attraction, the town centre of Iguazu is small and I wouldn’t bother with it except to buy supplies or if you have an urgent need to wait for a bus.

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He blasted the bus with some techno doof doof even I couldn’t handle

We visited the falls on the third day. These falls are huge! The high-speed boat ride into the falls is highly recommended (bring spare clothing). The board walks spanning the falls were filled with school kids, loud teenagers and tourists with no spatial awareness but again, highly recommended (Definately bring spare clothing). The collection of falls that make up Iguazu falls can be view from different angles from the board walks, including above and below. We were exhausted on our bus ride back to the hostel but there was not time to rest as we were on another overnight bus trip back to BA.

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I remember we had the bus to ourselves, and the bus driver seemed to think so too. He blasted the bus with some techno doof doof even I couldn’t handle. Once again Sam took charge and asked him to turn it down. It’s not that I’m chickenshit to ask. I just have more will power than Sam. We had decided to catch a boat across to Colonia, Uruguay as soon as our arrival at the BA bus terminal, which seemed like a second home to us by now. We would spend a night there and although it was a quaint little cobbled street town, it didn’t warrant an overnight stay. Take a day trip, that’s all you’ll need.

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We caught an earlier boat the next day to catch a flight out of BA to Lima, Peru. Land of Peruvian Pan-Pipes and all things Lama.

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Posted by Al Jam 15:41 Archived in Argentina Tagged iguazu colonia Comments (0)

Day 20 to 22 - Buenos Aires (Take two)

Paris of South America?...Everyone deserves a second chance.

sunny 25 °C

We decided to fly from Mendoza to Buenos Aires as we had a 12hr bus ride from BA to Iguazu Falls to look forward to in a couple of days. So we flew into BA, hoping that our experience the second time round with the ‘Paris of South America’ was more of what it proclaimed to be than the first time round.

Macho Man meets girl. Macho man wants girl

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We didn’t waste any time and booked ourselves for a night of Tango. A room, a tango class and a dinner and show in the one hotel. Sounds cheesy but in fact turned out to be a great night. The one hour Tango class was amusing but Mr Tango was getting a bit too touchy feely with Sam during his examples so I challenged him to a Dance-Off. He smartly declined and that was that. The show was what you would expect a Tango show to be. Macho Man meets girl. Macho man wants girl. Girl is with other Macho’er man. Macho Man shows he is Macho’er than Macho’er Man. Girl elopes with Macho Man...All this to tango dance, sleek short dresses and bare chested shirts.

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Somehow, after the show we managed to meet up with some of the Mendoza crew who had also decided to go to BA after Mendoza. We met them one of BA’s Hip 'n' Happening area (Which I cannot recall). Once again, things get hazy after this after all the wine at the Tango show and the beers that followed. I think we ended up at a night-club? Any of the Mendoza crew reading this, help me out here...

I was grinning like an ignorant tourist

We spent the next day wandering around the city and Markets in San Telmo. We walked through parts of the city we had missed due to bad weather on the first visit. The tree-lined streets, small antique shops, cafe's and markets along with perfect weather was what I envisioned BA to be. I was, however, on the receiving end of an evil eye from a Tango Dancer after I tipped him the equivelant of a high-five. Well we did only catch the last minute of his show?! I think he was more pissed off at the fact I was grinning like an ignorant tourist when I flipped the coin into his hat. At this point in the trip, I wasn’t looking to make friends with any male tango dancers.

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We ended off the day at a cafe we had been to before, but had to return to confirm an uneasy feeling that the cafe was actually a front for an escort service. So we sat, sipped our espressos and observed. It was like a school dance. Women, dressed in business (escort) attire, sat by themselves at tables, smiling, adjusting themselves. While the middle-aged men, stood at the bar, returning random smiles and looking to make eye contact. Sometimes a man would join a woman at the table, other times, they were joined at the bar...and some would then leave together after what I assume would be a ‘Business’ transaction. We were the only legitimate couple in there.

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Our second attempt at BA left us feeling that the city delivered and had real potential, especially in the summer. Next stop, an overnight bus to the mighty Iguazu Falls.

Posted by Al Jam 13:22 Archived in Argentina Tagged san tango buenos aires telmo Comments (0)

Day 17-19 - Mendoza, Argentina

Fine Wine Cycling

22 °C

* I had written the start of this blog entry just over a year ago. I was in the middle of blogging my South American Travels when my laptop kicked the bucket. I never got back into it as things started moving at light speed and before I knew it, I was in Chicago, living and working in the Land of the Free (not including Tip). I will try and summarize the rest of my South American Trip from what I remember in the blogs to follow.

When Sam and I planned our South America Adventure, the first thing that made it on the ‘to do’ list was to visit a winery. At this point in our trip, we had drunk enough wine to keep the wine industry afloat during these hard economic times. It’s called ‘Meaningful Travel’ where you give back to the community.

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It was my spreadsheet skills up against the Hostel’s booking system

Mendoza was apparently the place to go for wine, but it was not quite what we expected. We expected mountains surrounding green rolling hills, dotted with grape vines and large stone and wood distilleries. Instead Mendoza was a large sprawling metropolis with busy avenues, surrounded by highways. It is on the semi-arid eastern side of the Andes. It’s arid enough that Brad Pitt’s Seven Years in Tibet was filmed here. I guess it was cheaper to fly all those Tibetans to Argentina than to film in Tibet? We decided to take the 8 hour bus ride during the day. We were told that the scenery was amazing and they weren’t wrong. Heading out of Santiago, it wasn’t long before we were at the foot of the snow covered Andes as we drove through valley’s and up through the mountains via dangerous sharp switchbacks. Cars, buses, trucks and semi-trailers battled for every inch of tarmac as we cut through the Andes and into the dry plains of the wine Region.

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Putting our expectations aside, Mendoza didn’t start off well for us. For some reason, not even the power of my Excel itinerary, with its color coded, info filled, cells could prevent me from getting my dates wrong. We had arrived a day early and it was my spreadsheet skills up against the Hostel’s booking system. It took me two seconds to realize I had made a mistake and so we had to make do with dorm bunk beds. Sam was on top, as usual.

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The next two days would make up for it as we met a group of fellow travelers at the hostel. They had organized a wine tour the next day and were good enough to invite us. It was a mixture of Irish and Aussies who had either met travelling or had just met the night before*. At one point I was wandering why Simon Baker was staying at a hostel. No Joke, one of the Irish guys was a spitting image of the Aussie star of the tv show The Mentalist. I swore I thought it was him because he knew straight away I was thinking “Are you Simon Baker?” Just like a Mentalist!

After some warm up wheelies and bunny hops, we set off on our first winery

We gathered the next morning in the foyer. There were some casualties from the night before and they decided to give it a miss. In all, there were ten of us and so we set off on a bicycle wine tour. Yes, we would be riding bicycles from winery to winery. After some warm up wheelies and bunny hops, we set off on our first winery. It was a small winery and probably a good thing to start off slowly. The owner was even trying to flog some of his shirts which I would have bought as a laugh if I wasn’t on a budget. If you can imagine an Ed Hardy shirt with a picture of a tiger, but instead of the tiger, it had his face on it. I could have used it as my ‘Pull’ Shirt…back in the 90’s.

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a correlation between the increase in wine intake and the decrease in hand, eye, and foot coordination

With the first winery down, it all went downhill, uphill, sideways, stacks and near misses after that. Most of the roads were unpaved, more like dirt tracks with trucks, buses, pedestrians and suckers on bicycles. A couple of times we got lost as it all started looking the same and signage wasn’t on the top of the local council’s list of improvements. We stopped for an amazing lunch of wine (of course) and some tasty gourmet pizza on our second winery. By the third winery, our concentration and interest in the wine making was beginning to diminish but our appetite for wine tasting kept a steady course. The same could not be said for our cycling as obviously there was a correlation between the increase in wine intake and the decrease in hand, eye, and foot coordination. By our fourth and last winery, we politely declined the tour and just told them we would do our own wine tasting by ordering bottles of their fine wine, along with some cheese, meats, crackers and rested our weary bodies in the restaurant lounge area. I was definitely in love with South American wines, especially the Argentinian Malbec. I had yet to experience a bad bottle of Red whilst in South America and I had tasted some of its best wine. Noice.

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It was a great way to end the day, but little did we know it was only a precursor to a great night. We caught the bus back to the Hostel even though no one knew where we were going. Amazingly we managed to get off at the right stop and even head in the right direction to the Hostel. There was a bet going on what time we would get back to the hostel and so there was a mad dash out of the bus to the hostel. Probably not the best thing to have done after whole day of wine fuelled cycling.

(This is the point where my laptop died and fast forward a year, I will now try and recall the rest of my trip)

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So now I’ll try and remember what happened after that. We went to an Argentinean Steak (of course) Restaurant and ordered their ‘second’ best wine. We were, after all, backpackers on a budget. That didn’t stopping us from ordering their finest, biggest, juiciest steak and it WAS the finest, biggest juiciest steak I had ever had. It was around the size of my head. Some managed to finish the beastly meat but I could only get a through three quarters of it. Some others took leftovers home. I may have been on a budger but I have a rule about Steak, eat it fresh, or don’t eat it at all.

The night ended off visiting a few bars I think. We ended up at an Irish bar...Or was it a regular bar with Irish people? Blur.
Next stop, Peru…I think?! Let me check my passport.

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Posted by Al Jam 21:03 Archived in Argentina Tagged winery cycling mendoza Comments (0)

Day 16 - Valparaiso, Chile

Paradise Valley to some, Jewel of the Pacifc to others. Eye candy to me.

sunny 18 °C

I’d never heard of Valparaiso until I started planning destinations in South America. Then again, Chile was never on the top of my list of countries to visit so when I read up on Valparaiso and looked at some photos, I instantly added it to our South American sojourn. It also helped that it was only 1-2 hours drive west of Santiago, towards the Pacific coast. Our original plan was to spend a night there and enjoy the spectacular views of the city night lights that Valparaiso was famous for. Instead we decided to stay an extra night in Santiago and just do a day trip which included a tour around a winery and a visit to the neighbouring beach resort town of Vina del Mar.

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A small group of us set off with a guide and a driver and by 10am, we arrived at the Winery for a quick tour and wine taste. The name of the winery escapes me now as I wasn’t quite on the ball that morning due to some ‘quiet’ drinks the night before, not to mention the late night Café Con Piernas detour. There was no way we were going to turn down free wine and so we as soldiered on and drank wine like coniseurs.

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Jumping back onto the minibus and another hour drive, we arrived in the port town of Valparaiso. Valparaiso, or locally known as Valpo, literally means Valle Paraiso in Spanish and translates to English as Paradise Valley. It sits on the coast of Chile and its bay ports are surrounded by steep hillsides and plateaus. Combine this with cobblestone alleys, unique urban planning, a picturesque bay and brightly coloured houses and you can see why it’s called Paradise Valley or why it’s commonly known as the Jewel of the Pacific. If you don’t believe me, just ask UNESCO. They declared it as a World Heritage Site in 2003.

I was like a little kid in an eye candy store with my camera


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The houses in Valparaiso have to be seen to be believed. Photos just don’t justify the colours that jump out at you as you wander the cobblestone alleys and traverse the steep hillsides on funicular elevators (steep cable cars). The houses hang off the steep hills and gives the impression that the hills are painted bright colours. The street art is just as eye catching and sometimes unexpected. I was like a little kid in an eye candy store with my camera, shooting at anything and everything. I was starting to really regret not staying for a night as I could only imagine the city at dusk or dawn, and I would also miss the views of the city by night, apparently a Valpo highlight. Oh well, all the more reason to return.

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I was starting to feel the affects the previous night's drinking and my tummy was starting to lay down the law. Lunch was planned in neighbouring town of Vina del Mar, where the high rollers of Santiago would go to take a break. On the way we stopped at the Reloj de Flores, a huge clock made of flowers. Once again, I had tuned out and missed the significance of it. At that point I had no interest a flower clock due to my hunger starting to control my emotions and attention span.

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Vina del Mar is a very clean town with long white sandy beaches. Lined with beachside restaurants, cafes and hotels, it reminded me a bit of Cannes in the French Riviera. Unfortunately for us, it’s also very seasonal. Although it was sunny, the weather was still too chilly for the beach and so the town and beach was quite empty, except for a lost eskimo asleep on the beach. It was fine with me as I was just looking forward to a quiet, not so crowded lunch by the beach with a lazy afternoon coffee. We made quick stop at the Archaeological Museum on the way home to check out an Easter Island Moai monolith sculpture. They shipped one over from Easter Island and sits just outside the museum. We didn’t go into the museum but it was cool to see one of these huge stone sculptures, which was small in comparison to its cousins back on Easter Island.

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Back in Santiago, it was quite obvious that the last two weeks was starting to take its toll on our bodies and mood. Sam and I were getting quite irritable at each other, trying to work out a simple thing like what to eat for dinner. It may have been because we found ourselves alone for the first time in two weeks, but I think it was a combination of that, tiredness and knowing we were leaving a great group of people we could now call friends. After a couple of dummy spits and pouting, we hugged it out. We decided to go on the cheap and had a complejo (Chilean hotdog with everything) from a dodgy street stall for dinner. We ate, spilt sauce and looked forward to the next part of our adventure. With just the two of us alone we assumed it would get less hectic, but we were wrong. Enter Mendoza, Argentina. Wine Country.

Posted by Al Jam 15:15 Archived in Chile Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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