Monday, January 30, 2006

Pucon - a party town!!!

Arrive in sunny Pucon at around 7:30AM. Known as the adventure travel and tourist base of the Lake District in Chile, Pucon (with a population of 21,000) has so much to do its hard deciding what you can fit in while you are here!!! As everyone says, its the most convenient place to do it all...climb a volcano, raft or kayak, soak in the hot springs, trek in the amazing national parks nearby, eat well and parteeeeee!!!!! Hmmnn.. all sounds good to us!!! So first order of business, we find our hostel, descriptively named "Hostel Backpackers".....! Well known, and recommended to us by quite a few people, due in large part to the owner Claudio, being one of the best volcano guides in the town (and quite a nice wee man too, although for some reason, whenever people got a bit out of hand and noisy of an evening after mucho vino or cerveza (or even white Russians - but more on that later!), he would always wag his finger at me to keep the noise down!! I mean, seriously i that loud?????

We head out to explore the town.. interesting as it is very cute, if a tad touristy,.....but not in a traditional Chilean or even South American way. The easiest way to describe it would be that it looks like a Swiss ski resort with beautiful chalets dotted all over, lots of chocolate and cheese shops and tons of companies selling every high octane adventure you might be looking for!!! The biggest draw of the town is Volcan Villerica....a 2,847m high active (yes that would be lava spewing, sulphur gas spurting...ACTIVE) volcano that you walk up through knee high snow, essentially along the side of the volcano, until you get to the crater at the top! There are also tons of lake side beaches to choose from, with volcanic black ash sand....jam packed with Chilean tourists on their summer holidays!! Ahh, the choices - its a tough life!!! Back at the ranch, we sit and make chit chat with some new... yes you guessed it, new found friends! Hezi from Israel (nice guy but as we would say at home, a powerful talker!) He was traveling with his dad, Menachin, a very hip and active dad indeed who was out canopying through the forest, as we chatted! Also a star girl .. Victoria (aka Tory) Snowball from Oz. Not only do we LOVE her name, she is just a brilliant girl. Super smart.. she has been studying medicine in Edinburgh for a year and is now traveling on her own at the tender age of 22 all over Europe and South America! And Barak, another Israeli traveling for 7 weeks in Chile and Argentina. We all went out for dinner and had a grand ole' time ......

Jan 31st. Snowball, Dominique and I head out this morning on the 8:30am bus to Parque Nacional Huerquehue. This giant park, with over 12,500 hectares of protected rivers, waterfalls, alpine lakes and araucaria forests, is really beautiful and well worth the visit. We had an incredibly hot day, with the bluest skies and really amazing scenery. There are many lakes within the park; we visited Lagos Verde, Chico and Toro. Saw tons of waterfalls and amazing trees and plants,, a beautiful place to hang out for the day....7 hours later we were a wee bit knackered so headed back to town to sort out our volcano trip for the next day (yes, no surprise im a bit nervous about it!!). Decided to be real budget travelers tonight so bought dinner in the supermarket and cooked in the hostel! Only happens now and then so not bad... although we both agree, we prefer the dining experience whenever possible!!!

Feb 1st. This is the big day! Get up at 6am for our trek to Volcan Villarica! Meet our guide Pedro - what a lovely guy! Very funny ....the rest of our group is great too! We have Camillo and Daniel, brothers from Columbia now living in LA and their cousin, Lorena, and 2 Germans and a lovely guy from Brazil whose name keeps escaping me, so we will call him "Brazil". At the beginning of the volcano, you can be sane and take the 15 minute chair lift, OR you can be hard core and mad as a hatter and decide to walk the hour long steep climb through volcanic rock...yup, that would be my intrepid friend Dominique and the 2 Germans! Its strange...the further away the volcano is, the more impressive and scary it looks. Closer up and it actually looks quite do-able!! Essentially, you walk along the side of the volcano, which is pretty steep,, and you could slide down it i suppose if you are not being careful! So obviously in order to concentrate this meant i couldnt talk, look around me AND hike, so i concentrated on the hiking part! It was incredibly beautiful! Even though we were walking in the snow, it was so hot with clear blue skies and baking sun; the snow was blinding white and you definitely needed your sunglasses! News flash...and this is a first for me.. the hike was really quite easy... you just walked along with your ice pick (in case you did start to slide, Pedro showed us how to use it to stop ourselves going over the edge! Phew - good to know!) and zig-zagged your way to the top!And the views when you arrived....were incredible! Looking down into the valley where the town was, or into the mouth of the volcano....seeing the lava splashing upwards towards us... amazing, impressive; like nothing i had ever seen before!!!

THEN the best bit. It took us nearly 3 hours to reach the summit and less than 1 hour to get down. HOW i hear you ask???? Well, we literally slid down the mountain on our bums...through these little snow tunnels. It was absolutely FANTASTIC!! So exhilarating and fast and exciting..Loved it! But i got into trouble a wee bit when i went a little too fast, and left my ice pick half way up the mountain as i sped downwards...hmmn Pedro was not amused....but all ended well and it was just brilliant! And ALL of us had completely frozen, numb bums!!! So of course we had to celebrate as a gang with a wee cerveza or two, once we got back into town! Tiptoed back to the ranch a wee while later to meet up with Snowball and Barak as we were going to the Termas Los Pozones, with 6 natural hot stone springs that evening (yes, as i have said on a number of intrepid travelers... we just go, go, go.....). Off we went at 9pm, in the dark, to sit in these natural and beautiful hot springs. There were so many stars out that night, the skies twinkled so brightly there wasnt much need for outdoor lighting. It was quite an experience, especially after such an exhilarating day, to sit in the springs, relaxing in the dark and enjoying the beautiful evening!!

Feb 2nd. My super active friend decided to go mountain biking with our friend, Brazil. I, on the other hand, finally gave in and decided to do nothing today! Well, not really. Snowball and I went to see about paragliding but apparantly they dont do it in Pucon, even tho' a lady in the tourist office convinced me they did! Oh well! We headed down to the beach hot hot! Met up with Dom later that day after her intrepid ride to the "Playa Blanca" miles and miles away, which to her chagrin, was not white at all! New amigos in the hostel - Mickey and Guy from Israel, Al from Ireland, Gabriella from New York (one of the funniest girls i have met on my travels ....a doll and fellow foodie; we are going to meet up when we get back from our prospective travels and go restaurant hopping together -- yah!) and Jamie from Boston! The boys decided to host a "White Russian" evening which we were all cordially invited to! Great laugh especially when Al decided to showcase his Irish dancing skills to the gang.. quite an accomplishment after mucho Russo Blancos!!! Al .. i have the video if you ever need it!!! More fun was required so we headed off to a local club just outside of town...danced the night away, well, until morning really as we all got home around 5ish! Good times except yet again, i almost got ejected from the club for requesting Madonna too many times! What is wrong with this country! I need to hear my girl sing!!! Oh well.....

Feb 3rd and 4th. Lots of pottering these days.. kind of strange not to be running around or have specific plans for once, but Dominique explained to me this is called "relaxing", so hey, i went with the flow!! Didnt quite get around to having a massage on the beach (see pic!)..bummer!! Had some fun times sitting at the beach bar watching the beautiful people .....because this is such a huge holiday destination for Chilenos themselves, never mind us gringo tourists, there are many companies touting their wares, especially drinks companies e.g. Yellow Dog (the Chilean version of Red Bull), given out by gorgeous women dressed in the modern day equivalent of the teeny, weeny yellow, polka dot bikini! Didnt see any boys in equally teeny weeny outfits but hey, this is South America so what do you expect!!! We also met a lovely couple, Mike and Di from New Zealand and Australia respectively, who had just arrived at Backpackers! Not only did we have a great giggle with them; we also bought their cute wee two man (or in our case two complete non-camper girls) tent from them, as they had already "done" the W Trek so didnt need it anymore! What luck, and Mike was a star and walked us through exactly how to put it up .. 'cos of course we didn't have a clue (and we are off to camp for 5 days soon.. hmmmm we might have to practise a bit first!). So that was brilliant.. you should see the size of it! It's tiny (we joked that Dominiique and I would be very good friends at the end of the trek!!) and it's so light... technology today, amazing!!! So as we say goodbye to Pucon,I would say this is definitely a fun town, with tons of outdoors adventures to choose from, and tons of bars and clubs for party time....thoroughly enjoyed our visit here ........But now we are off, making our way to Patagonia in the very south of the country for the piece de resistance of the trip - the W Trek!! Here we come!!!!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Santiago .....el grande cuidad de Chile!

Hmmmn.... remember what i said about liking the old bus journeys...well, that is still true! HOWEVER..... when 20 hours turns into nearly 24 hours you do start to get a bit antsy! My trip from BA to Santiago ended up a wee bit delayed, partly due to the incredibly sophisticated and speedy immigration process between Argentina and Chile, (not!) which is always fun, but all in all, no real problems. Got into the bus station in Santiago and in my new "real traveler" style, I took the subway to our hostel where I was reunited with my travel pal, Dominique! It may sound pathetic but those of you who know me well, know that a) i´m usually completely directionally impaired wherever i am, and b) when i started my travels i was definitely a tad nervous about getting around, especially with limited Spanish, so when things actually work out and i get to where i am going without too many mishaps, its like this small burst of confidence makes you think "wow, im not a complete idiot"! And just think folks, if i can do this, anyone can!!!

And what a great place Hostel Bellavista is...very funky, the decor is brilliant, huge TV room, great people working there, especially Gabby who gave me a list a mile long of hip South American music they played there. Of course, when Dom and I meet up there is so much to talk about that we immediately have to go have a cerveza or two, or was it maybe even three?? Oops! We decide to celebrate by treating ourselves to a non-backpacker AKA posh dinner at a fab and funky restaurant called Copa y Tapas, and how convenient that it is right next door to the hostel so we could stagger, ahem, i mean skip home later that night!

Jan 27th. Get up and head out for a day of exploring. We went to Barrio Brasil to visit Salvadore Allende´s museum but the damn thing was closed as they are moving all the artifacts to another building later this year! Bit of a bummer but we head into town instead, to check out the Plaza de Armes - beautiful indeed. The cathedral was gorgeous, and the architecture surrounding the rest of the square was quite inspiring! We had a great veggie lunch in town (for some reason Santiago has tons of veggie restaurants, way more than any other big city we have visited to date!) - if anyone is visiting, go to El Naturista on Calle Moneda (oh come on now, I haven´t talked about food for at least a few days...).

Then we decided to take the bus to the Cementerio General. This is by far the biggest (and one of the saddest!) cemetaries I have ever visited. It is truly massive with so many roads built within it for cars to drive through; almost overwhelming it is so huge. We walked around and found this little old lady sitting chatting to another girl who works in the cemetary. We struck up a somewhat strange conversation as every time we spoke or answered a question, the little lady would start crying and wringing her hands.. hmmnnn a little odd but we didnt want to pry (esp. hard for me to pry in Spanish!)... so we continued to chat until the wee lady decided she liked us, and offered to give us our own private tour of the cemetary (she did work there too, in case you think we are in the habit of randomnly picking up little old ladies!). She was so lovely, showing us many of the famous graves in the cemetery, including Salvadore Allende, president of Chile (1970–73). In typical blog tradition, I feel it appropriate to give you a little background to the political history of Chile, specifically surrounding the coup of 1973, as it has such strong connections to the cemetery. Salvadore Allende helped found the Chilean Socialist party in 1933, was minister of health (1939–42) and president of the senate (1965–69). Four times a presidential candidate, he won in 1970 by a narrow plurality. Attempting to implement socialism by democratic means (“the Chilean road to socialism”), he nationalized industries, including the U.S.-owned copper multinationals, and pushed extensive land reform. As a minority president, however, his programs provoked strong resistance in the opposition-controlled congress and judiciary. The Chilean people, too, became highly polarized, resulting in vocal support and often violent opposition. Instability was further fueled by soaring inflation and widespread shortages, caused in part by the U.S. economic blockade and the undercover activities of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. In Sept., 1973, Allende was overthrown in a bloody military coup led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet Ugarte. Official reports state that Allende committed suicide during the coup, though most assert that he was murdered. Democracy was not restored in Chile until 1990. In addition to his grave, there are also many, many other graves of people who died in the coup of 1973, in fact so many that there is a huge wall, also known as a memorial to the "disappeared" victims of the Pinochet dictatorship. Even knowing so little of this history, you could really feel the sadness from that period of time, so many young people died, some with marked graves, others unknown lying under rusted iron crosses with no-one to tend their graves. Very thought provoking time spent here...

So you would think that was enough for one day, but no! The intrepid travelers push on, and up actually, as we decided to climb Cerro San Cristobal which towers above Santiago and is also the site of the Parque Metropolitano, the capital´s largest open space. Sitting on top is a massive statue of the Virgen de la Gloria, which I managed to get to in a somewhat normal fashion, while Dominique in her usual "scrambler" style, decided to take an alternate route through a really steep hill of bushes and cactus, and something that could only tentatively be called a path! In a skirt, with stitches in her hand (she had a wee accident with a wine glass in Mendoza, but thankfully it wasnt too bad!), she scrambled all the way to the top, in flipflops... the girl is mad, but she just loves a challenge! Great views from the top, but you could also see the heavy clouds of smog that Santiago is famous for! What was even more incredible was the fact you could still see the clear outline of the Andes behind the smog..............The other great thing (completely separate from this visit but equally fab!) that happened today, again in traditional traveler style, was meeting our new friend Bec from Oz; Brisbane to be precise! We all clicked immediately and felt the need to go to a bar to celebrate our new found friendship (see a pattern emerging here?)....

Jan 28th. Today we visited the famous Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda´s house just around the corner from our hostel. The tour was fantastic and really interesting, especially as i didnt know very much about Neruda (not his real name by the way!) before this! Three wives, with this, his most loved house named after his third and last wife, Matilda. It is called La Chascona (which means wild hair)as she had a mane of incredible red hair that apparantly Neruda found irrisistable.... He was best friends with the painter, Diego Riviera, AKA Frieda Kohl´s husband, and his house was seen as a focal point for many artists during Pinochet´s reign. The house was ransacked by soldiers many times during this turbulent period of Chilean history, but it has outlasted the politics and is a beautiful example of a love story between very artistic people!

Then I was off to visit some other fab museums - the Palacio Cousino and the Museo de Precolumbia (oh dear, both were closed! But it was Saturday afternoon..isn't that when most people think about visiting museums - at the weekend!!!) Darn it! Oh well, I'll just have to do culture tomorrow! Dom, Bec and myself decided to visit a well recommended seafood restaurant in town for dinner, named Ocean Pacific. Absolutely hilarious.. little did we know it was the wildest themed restaurant any of us had ever seen, complete with every possible sea, sand and yes, submarine artifacts you could imagine! And yes, you could indeed walk through a giant whales jaw if you so desired to get to one of the dining rooms, or how about checking out the engine room where thousands of electric lights twinkled as you munched on your calamari!! Outrageous but great fun! After dinner, we asked the waitress for a recommendation for a cool bar close by.. must be something about these themed places that they think "like one, like them all" as she gave us directions to La Vikings bar, complete with giant viking helmet and horns hanging over the front door (oh, where was my camera!!!) .. I mean seriously, we do have some street cred! So of course we found an alternative, and quite funky, neighbourhood bar in Barrio Brasil.. lotsa pisco sour (the official drink of Chile...although i think Peru also likes to think of this brandy liquor made from distilled grapes, as their national drink!!!) caipirinhas, daiquiries and much, much more!!!

Feb 29th. Last day in Santiago...bummer as i have really enjoyed my time here. It´s funny.. the locals are very protective of their tourists, and ive been told a number of times "Cuidado" - be careful, and certain areas are "muy pelligrosso" - dangerous! Honestly, i havent felt nervous at all here and the people we have met have been brilliant... Visited the Museo de PreColumbiana Art today.....really really interesting museum that showcases the traditions and history of the many tribes who lived across South America thousands of years ago. One interesting fact....some of the tribes used to decapitate their loved ones after they died and use the skull as a traditional way to ward off diseases in their crops.. by burying it in the ground near the crops, or keeping it in the house! Apparantly some families still follow this tradition to this day. Hmmmmmnn.. might try some modern day pesticides myself but hey, that's what's wrong with this world. What do i know! So its off to Pucon tonight on the overnight bus... for some sun, sand, volcanos and much, much more!

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Buenos who??? Oh yes, Buenos Aires!!!

Jan 21st! Arrived in Buenos Aires around 9am today and its hot, hot, hot! Decided to use public transportation in real backpacker style, and utilize my already finely honed directional skills to take the local bus from the station to my hostel, (AKA this obviously meant I had to ask approx. eight people where the bus was, and once I actually found it, was I on the right one!). But even with all that, I made it to the hostel no problem, with all my conversations in Spanish, so the ole` lingo is definitely coming along - "lentamente pero im que consiguen mejor" ! The hostel "Pangea" was great! People were lovely! So of course I did the usual traveler thing; dropped off the giant "mochilla" and my laundry and then headed out to experience Buenos Aires - cosmopolitan capital of Argentina .. and South America!

The city itself in incredible. A beautiful mix of stately European buildings, incredible restaurants, (almost all of them serving the world famous Argentinian steaks the country is so proud of), and colourful neighbourhoods like Palermo, Recoleta, San Telmo and La Boca! It´s also got great shopping, huge tango culture and the best nightlife in South America (ok, so i havent been to Brazil yet but still this city will be hard to beat... ). Essentially BA (as we travelers like to call it) in one word - is just AMAZING!! With over 13 million people living in the "ciudad centrale" and suburbs (in the barrios folks are generally described as "portenos". Literally translated this means poor city dweller. I dont think everyone in BA thinks of themselves this way, in fact those uppercrust folks living in the stylish areas of Recolota and Palermo apparantly think of themselves as a cut above the poor "portenos"!). For a big city, there is still a feeling of "tranquillo" about the place, with elegant, well dressed people chatting on cell phones, whiling away the afternoon sipping cafe con leche in atmospheric cafes. At the same time, there is alot of hustle and bustle and the folks here like to let you know their city is all business...have I mentioned I love it here!!!

So on to my adventures! I headed out to visit the famous Cementerio de la Recoleta where Eva Peron AKA Evita, and many other famous Argentinians are buried. As the name denotes, the cemetary sits in one of BA`s plushest neighbourhoods, ritzy Recoleta, and it is one of the key tourist attractions of the city. High walls surround this beautiful if somewhat strange, necropolis, where they say "in death even as in life, generations of Argentina`s elite rest in ornate splendour". It´s hard to capture the ornate architecture and detailed marble graves in photos, but I took a couple of shots.. see for yourselves.Walked around here for over 2 hours (is it weird that I love cemetaries so much!), then headed out to Plaza Francia where there was an amazing craft fair. Everything from mate cups... (the official addiction of Argentina. No self respecting Argentinian goes anywhere without their flask of hot water and mate tea!) beautiful hand made jewellery.. and tons more! Went a bit mad and bought lots of fun things.. AND i saw an infamous "paseaperros" aka professional dog walker!

Headed back to the hostel later in the afternoon and got chatting to Pablo, one of the boys that works there. He was very interesting and we talked for a good while before he had to head back to work. People are so friendly in hostels, it never ceases to amaze me. If they work there, they want to make sure you are ok, and share their tourist info with you. If they are staying there, they are just happy to chat and meet new folks! All very sociable indeed!

Then, in the tradition of this fabulous continent, I went for a wee siesta for a few hours and woke up around 10ish.. headed off for some dinner (quickly left the first restaurant I went into, as it had a giant cockroach walking drunkenly towards me!) then back to the hostel where I made 2 fab friends.. Netta and Joachim, both from Israel....and of course Jefferson, a mad Peruvian who worked the night shift! We all chatted over a cerveza or two, then around midnight Netta and I headed out to the newest and funkiest club in Buenos Aires - Opera Bay! Danced our hearts out till about 6am .. great place but very interesting going dancing with a girl from Israel. We met about 20-25 other folks at the club, all of them young, hip Israelis, currently hanging out in BA, with most of them having just finished their army time recently. The entire night i had to say "no entiendo" when people either asked if I spoke Hebrew or just started chatting to me in it. Now obviously "no entiendo" is Spanish for I dont understand but as I dont know how to say "I dont understand" in Hebrew yet, that was the best I could do! It was a really surreal experience being in this hip South American club in BA hearing and meeting so many people from Israel.. all fantastic people, and really, really sociable! In fact, the Israeli phenomemon is well known throughout South America- there are Israeli only hostels, many people in shops or hostels speak quite a bit of Hebrew `cos there are so many Israelis traveling ..... many are in their early 20`s either on their own or in big groups of 10 or more.. and I've now learned a few Hebrew words myself - "Shalom" - Hi, "ma nishma" - What´s up, "sababa" - its all good, "bevakasha" - please, "toda" - thank you and "leitraot" - bye!! So definitely a great night out with a very fun group of people!!

Jan 22nd.. just a little tired today! Packed my bag as I´m heading over to my friend Jo`s for a few days (a new found friend from our Spanish school days in Cuenca, Ecuador earlier in my trip! She is very nicely putting me up for the rest of my time in BA). Decided to go to check out the San Telmo area with Netta and Joachim. Six blocks south of the key Plaza de Mayo, San Telmo attracts artists with its low rents and aging, but still beautiful mansions. Its also all about tango here! We had a fantastic day pottering around the incredible antique market in Plaza Dorrego. From antique watches, beautiful crystal, vintage clothes and vivid colored glass - this place had it all! Then we went for an amazing traditional Argentinian lunch -- yup i finally had my Argentinian steak!!! and there was a tango show in the restaurant - incredible! How lucky am i!! Eventually headed back to the hostel to pick up my bag ..had to say good bye to my new friends.. ahh the heartbreak of hostel living!

Over to Jo`s apartment in a different part of the city - Palermo . really cool area. Went out for dinner with Jo, her friend Amanda also studying to be an English teacher in BA and Helene, a good friend of Jo`s from their Columbia days together.. !Had a great time and saw tons of tango in the squarewhere an old man of about 75 almost pushed me to the ground to get at Jo and swing her around the square!!! Huh - old folks today - really!

Jan 23rd. Helene and i went out to conquer the city today. Caught the bus (not this one, i just liked the look of it!) to the Recoleta cemetary again- yes id been before, but was happy to act as a mini-tour guide for Helene... and i do LOVE cemetaries, especially this one! Then of course it was time for cafe con leche and we were having a great chat before these two Columbian businessmen started chatting to us - gosh we couldnt get rid of them! Eventually, we headed off again, this time down to the Plaza de Mayo, and checked out Catedral Metropolitano, the square and of course Casa Rosada, the pink presidential palace. . Look carefully and you can see the balcony where Evita gave many a stirring speech during her heyday in the 1940´s! Then it was over to Puerto Madera the port area of BA which apparantly has been given a much needed face lift recently, and is now a very trendy restaurant area with great bars. No rest for the wicked, so we walked back to the Ave de Mayo to meet Helene´s friend Rodrigo, who lives in BA, at the famous Cafe Tortoni..I loved this traditional old cafe, known for its charming old time atmosphere and ambience...

On our way back to Palermo, Rodrigo treated us to a speedy (and i mean speedy! This boy zoomed us all over town in about half an hour!)tour of BA - from the Hipodromo (race track), Little Ben aka "Torres de los Ingleses", the Palermo lakes, the famous white Obelisk that punctuates the giant Av 9 de Julio, and of course, the Campo de Polo polo grounds, where only the elite take part in this very Argentinian sport! We saw it all! Awfully nice of him and again many more reasons to make me love BA even more!

Jan 24th - the Museo de Evita. This provided a really interesting review of her life and the love she had for both her husband Juan Peron and also her country..ok maybe ive read too much of "her" story but she did do alot for the poor and for womens rights.. but I suppose she did also enjoy an incredibly luxurious life style, and apparantly used her considerable influence to "get rid off" those opposing political figures that didnt agree with her and her husbands political philosophies. Did you know she was asked by her party to become Vice President, but although she wanted it so much she was asked, and agreed, not to accept it because she was such a controversial figure! And when she died of cancer at the age of 33, her body was sent to Spain and buried under a false name (again ´cos the new regime hated her so much!) and when it was finally sent back for burial in Argentina, it was concluded that her body had been beaten quite badly... and after death! Fingers cut off, lots of cuts and bruises, her feet were put in some type of acid, and there were also other more dodgy rumours that i wont go into ... It is amazing how one woman could bring about such love and hatred in her short life!!!

Jan 25th - last day in BA for a while at least... thankfully could cut the mochilla contents in half and leave a ton of stuff with Jo - LOVE HER for that!! We met for lunch then I headed off to the bus station for my ride to Santiago.. actually its weird, but I´m really quite enjoying the bus journeys now.. and of course it goes without saying, that i LOVED Buenos Aires.... and cant wait to come back in a few weeks!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Iguazu Falls .. via Cordoba!

So as i had said earlier, i got on my bus at 9:30pm last night to begin my solo mini-adventure to Puerto Iguazu and Buenos Aires, while Dominique does another week of Spanish in Mendoza and then heads off to Valparaiso and Vina del Mar in Chile. We will meet up again in 2 weeks in Santiago, Chile and have vowed we will outdo each other with wierd and wacky travel stories ...we will see !!!

Got to Cordoba (after 10 hr bus ride, cama-style so very comfy!) for my whistle stop tour at 7:30am this morning. Dropped off the massive mochilla/backpack and headed into town, determined to conquer this city and all its attractions in a mere day! Cordoba has the reputation of having a young and lively buzz due to its many university undergrads! Famed for its medical faculty, the city is often referred to as "La Docta" (the Scholar!). Its also one of Argentina´s most Catholic cities with 21 churches in the downtown area alone! I now know that as I managed to hit six of those churches, as well as two plazas, a museum AND have breakfast by 10am!!! That´s quite impressive: i`ve got this tourist thing covered i think! It seems a nice city, with a small town feel, even though there are over a million peple here.. so definitely enjoyed wandering around and whiling away the day until bus number 2 sets off for the falls at 7pm tonight!!

And i´m off again! Check out my bus (just kidding!). This time it´s semi-cama all the way (for those of you not familiar with buses in South America, you pay that bit more and rather than get a regular chair, you get a semi - where the chairs are big and comfortable and recline pretty far, and a leg rest; or cama, even more room and comfort, sometimes with meals too! It´s kind of like flying except you have tons more room but it takes a LOT longer! Met Eugenie at the terminal, while we waited for our bus to arrive (which was late)! Lovely girl studying to be a nun in Cordoba, going to visit her family in Posadas. We had a great chat (and yes, i did practice my Spanish too!; helped the 21 hour (yes 21!) journey whizz past, well, not quite but good company and four films also helped! Must get that Shrek 2 soundtrack!

Arrived in Puerto Iguazu around 4ish, bit tired but luckily the hostel i picked was just around the corner - Corrino Cominos! Checked out the town, and set up my plans for the next few days. Met up with new pals after dinner; Surinder from Derby, England and Troy from Prince Edward Island, Canada... and Leor from Israel, who has just finished her 2 1/2 years of national service and is traveling around South America on her own (very impressive!) so we decided to explore Iguazu Falls together ...

Jan 18th; very impressively we had decided to get up early so we would have a head start on the crowds so early it was - 6:30am to be precise! Aren´t you impressed as i am supposed to be relaxing on holiday impressed with myself! The four of us headed down to the bus terminal and picked up the local collectivo to the Argentinian side of the Iguazu Falls and the Parque Nacionale! Had a great day....started off with a bang when we went on a jeep through the jungle, then onto a speed boat that took us down rapids until we reached the waterfalls, then we sailed right into two of the biggest ones! Wild and totally soaked but brilliant! The falls are amazing; you cant sail into the biggest and most impressive one, Devil´s Throat (i like the Spanish name best, "Garganta del Diablo") cos its just so massive you would be squished like a bug..imagine Niagara Falls except much bigger and slightly more impressive! Sorry Niagara!

After being soaked to the skin, we all went over and explored San Martin island, then headed back onto the mainland where we walked around about 20 miradors checking out the fabulous views. After lunch, we all jumped on the Parque Nacionale train that took us to the best view yet...a close up of the Devil´s Throat! Seriously, there is something so hypnotic about waterfalls, that makes you sort of ...kind of.. want to jump in.. its not just me, some of the others felt the same way. It was also incredibly hot, that might have had something to do with it too! The spray alone from the falls managed to soak us all again, and the noise as the water cascades over the rocks is incredibly loud; as the guide books say "this is the closest thing to the experience of sailing off the edge of the earth". So great day indeed! But of course, the Argentinian side wasnt enough..

Jan 19th - another early start (arent you impressed!) and its over to Brazil to check out a completely different perspective and a much broader view of the falls in all their glory! Also saw lots of these wee animals - cant remember their name but think of raccoons without the sunglasses (or are they skunks?).
Again fabulous time had by all and great to see how the views are from this side of the pond, so to speak! We were all set to take a helicopter ride over the falls, but the weather wasnt co-operating, so we couldnt make it....bummer as it would have been beautiful im sure. Oh well! Interesting trip back with the bus driver dropping us off miles from the damn stop, so we had to traipse back for an hour to get to Brazilian immigration, but luckily we made it through and back to Puerto Iguazu without any further mishaps! Dinner with Suri then he headed off on his bus to Salta, and i ended up talking to Nicholas from Nottingham and Luke from Australia for hours in our dorm, then some new friends from Sweden and Mexico joined in! Ahh the multicultural diversity of the hostel life. Did i mention this was my first mixed dorm AKA boys and girls sharing bunk beds...and it dawned on me as we sat around chatting over a great bottle of Malbec wine, i was indeed the only girl in the mixed ward that night! Hmmn ive come a long way, i have to say, but it wasnt a problem at all. Only problem was stopping those boys chatting so the rest of us could get some sleep! And they say girls talk alot!

Up the next day with a trip to Paraguay in mind to visit the Itaipu Dam, one of the biggest dams in the world, that provides 80% of Paraguay´s electricity and 20% of Brazil´s all through hydro electric power! Quite incredible. But unfortunately i couldnt make it cos there wasnt enough time to go and come back and then get my 17 hr (yes this ones a short trip teehee!) to Buenos Aires. So had a relaxing day, writing postcards, sitting watching the world go by with my cafe con leche, and generally taking it easy!Jumped on my bus at 4pm for my next adventure - Buenos Aires, party capital of Argentina and home of Evita (well, her grave now as she died in 1952)! My bus was cama all the way, with dinner and champagne no less, included (ok i did treat myself here to the top notch option!). Great trip and this one did whiz by i have to say, so just thinking, the four hour bus journey from Boston to New York will feel like a walk in the park after all these bus journeys! Hello Buenos Aires!