A Travellerspoint blog

Over the Andes to Argentina!

sunny 34 °C
View Backpacking 08/09 on VanessaT's travel map.

My first impression when stepping off the bus in Mendoza was...wow its hot!! Much hotter than Chile and unfortunately the dreaded humidity was back!
The main activity in Mendoza was going on wine tasting tours which obviously didn't appeal as i don't drink wine! it was quite fun to play 'spot whos been on a wine tour' at the hostel in the evenings...some staggering around and red wine stained teeth going on! you can also do a tour of the vineyards on a bike which sounds like a recipe for disaster! However Mendoza is a very pretty city, it was hit by an earthquake in 1861 which resulted in the city being rebuilt with future earthquakes in mind- wide avenues (for rubble to fall into!) and lots of plazas (for evacuation points). The plazas were a great place to hang out in the shade, read and people watch.

Next stop was San Juan a small town a couple of hours drive from Mendoza, on my favourite, the semi cama! The bus attendant brought round coke and alfajors as a mid morning snack, after the sweaty hike to the bus station it was just what i needed! Alfajors are a chocolate biscuit with a caramelly filling, very yummy! When i arrived in San Juan i thought that all the residents had left the town but turns out they just siesta properly here and literally everything was closed. I can understand why they do it though because the heat in the afternoons is unbearable.

In the evening we went to an Olive Oil Museum which was actually more of a tour around the factory where they process the olives into oil, using all the original machinery. The chap who showed us around was the son of the founder the company and was clearly very proud of all the companies products and history- unfortunately he was babbling away in spanish and i had no clue what he was saying! Luckily Karima can speak a bit of spanish so could translate! We tasted the oil and watched a short video and by the time it had finished the guy had set out all kinds of things for us to try, olive oil paste, sundried tomatoes, olives with roasted almonds in, pickled cucumber, sweet dried olives and finishing off with a glass of, well we're not quite sure what it was but it we think it was an argentinian grappa! no need for dinner that night then!

The next morning was an early one, we were going to get the bus out to a nearby reservoir and go swimming but had to go early before it got too hot. The bus took ages, the driver honked at everyone he knew which seemed to be the entire town! But when we got there it was worth it, completely still and quiet. The landscape was really unusual, the whole area is clay. Nearby is the Valley of the Moon where the landscape is meant to resemble the moon and i guess this was quite similar. We walked around the reservoir, past a no swimming sign, over all the rocks to a shady patch and headed down to the waters edge ready for a dip and promptly sank knee deep into the clay bank! All the rocks and earth look pretty solid but as soon as it comes into contact with the water it turns into mush as we found out when we stepped into it! No wonder the no swimming sign is there!
Spent the morning shade bathing and taking photos then caught the bus back into town. Was 1 o'clock by then and pretty hot so there was only one thing for it....siesta!!

The next afternoon i hopped back on the bus to Mendoza where i had to change for the bus to Cordoba, 8 hrs east. I had a couple of hours to kill between buses so had a little picnic on the grass outside, fending off the local stray dogs! time to head to the platform. 9pm came and went...no sign of a bus to Cordoba. the fun thing with South American bus companies is that you never know exactly which make of bus is going to arrive. I had booked my ticket with Andesmar but was expecting the bus to be an El Rapido one but it could always have been a Tramat one too! They like to keep you on your toes! All around us buses were coming and going, Cata International, San Juan, Chevalier....no sign of any of the buses we wanted though! There was a big group of people clearly waiting for the 9pm bus and they started to drift off, sit down, settle in for the wait. Then the words strike and manana started to be mentioned...uh-oh this didnt sound good! Headed inside and with a stroke of luck found a lady who spoke english who explained there was a strike and all the Andesmar/El rapido/ Tramat buses were stuck inside the depot because they had blocked the road outside. A local judge was trying to sort out the situation but they didnt know how long it would take. All the argentinians got very vocal and pretty angry resulting in the police arriving! the Andesmar rep said he was calling the depot to find out the situation and if the buses werent running they would put us up for the night. Everything worked out well in the end though as after about 2 1/2hrs they got everything sorted and the buses started to arrive. Did think we were going to witness a bit of a riot at one point though!

The bus journey to Cordoba was nice, after the unbearable heat of San Juan it was such a treat to curl up in the cool air-conditioning and i slept really well!

Posted by VanessaT 08:06 Archived in Argentina Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

No...its not chilly in Chile!

sunny 28 °C
View Backpacking 08/09 on VanessaT's travel map.

It was really rather nice and warm in Chile, a lovely dry heat unlike the extreme humidity of Asia. The flight to Chile was not the best, beginning with all the women around me clutching their rosaries and crossing themselves as we were taking off! My tv packed in 2hrs into the flight just as i was getting geared up for some interactive Who Wants To Be A Millionaire! As always my iPod was my savior, especially when the children across the aisle started crying and only stopped as we came into land when they were too busy being sick to cry! Nice! During the flight we crossed the international date line so i actually landed in Chile before i had even left New Zealand! It was very strange to have two February 8ths!
Got the bus into Santiago, trying to get used to being in a non english speaking country again! The hostel was nice, in a converted house, on the cosy (small!) side though. Everyone was very friendly and the owner made a big effort to share the Chilean culture with us. One evening he took us round the corner to a ramshackle old house on the edge of a small plaza with music blaring out of the first floor window. Heading into the dark building we climbed the rickety stairs, muttering about how the house should probably have been condemned years ago and were greeted with the sight of a room packed with Chileans dancing Cueca the traditional dance of Chile. The first floor was full of people of all different ages dancing and we found the source of the music, the lively band. The core elements consisted of a double bass, a casio keyboard (!) and about 5 guitar players with a revolving assortment of other musicians my favourite being someone playing the saucers! also a hit was the wooden crate drum and the many tambourines being played by people throughout the room. The dance itself consists of a bit of stamping (possibly not great considering the choice of venue!) and some tantilising hankie waving!
The next day i had a walk round Santiago, went to the National Museum of Chile which would have been interesting...had it not been completely in Spanish!! A few nice buildings in the main square but Santiago is a pretty modern city.
Then it was off to Valparaiso about 2hrs west of Santiago on the coast. The old part of the city is unesco listed and i spent a lovely day wandering round the narrow and very steep streets looking at the traditional houses and admiring the views! The town is built up into the hills and to get anywhere you have to head upwards, they also have these cute acensors dotted around the town in the really steep parts, small lifts that whisk you up the hillside in an instant! I went to visit Pablo Nerudas house. It was really interesting, set out just as it was when he lived there. Full of quirky furniture and murals. High up in the neighbourhood of Bellavista the house looks out over all of Valparaiso, the living room has the most spectacular panoramic view over the city and ocean.

Sadly after just 6 days it was time to leave Chile and catch the bus over the Andes to Argentina. The buses in South America are amazing! I was on a semi-cama which is like a half sleeper, not even the poshest class but it had really comfy seats! A definite improvement on the Greyhound! We left Valparaiso and headed east, back through Santiago and into the Andes. Wow. They were spectacular, we were just completely surrounded by mountains, making the bus feel very small! On the Chilean side in order to climb up to the border there was a series of switchbacks which was quite precarious, especially when the crazy car drivers started passing us on the bends! Overall the roads are pretty good here, we did have to stop and negotiate a couple of rockfalls that had blocked the road though. The border crossing was fine but took ages, it's at 11,483 ft and you can really feel that the air is thinner up there. Continuing the journey on the Argentinian side the mountains were just as beautiful as we made the thankfully much gentler descent down from the mountains and into the city of Mendoza.

Posted by VanessaT 07:07 Archived in Chile Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

End of our New Zealand adventures

sunny 25 °C
View Backpacking 08/09 on VanessaT's travel map.

Taupo was very busy due to the A1 race meeting being held there…asked Dad if he wanted to go..it was a no! that would have been a bit of a busmans holiday!!
We drove down the road to Rotorua, famous for its geothermal activity and visited the Wai-O-Tapu thermal wonderland! We arrived early to catch the daily eruption of the Lady Knox Geyser. It was a packed house, I couldn’t believe how many people were there! With a little help from some natural soap she was off, bubbling up and growing higher and higher. The Geyser was originally discovered by prisoners working in the area and cleaning their clothes with laundry powder in the hot spring prompting an eruption, that must have been a bit of a surprise!!
Had a walk around the rest of the area marveling at the various bubbling, steam venting pools and craters. The most impressive was the Champagne Pool giving off a massive cloud of very warm vapor. At some points you couldn’t see further than a metre in front of you!

It was back down the road to Taupo…one of the sky dive capitals in the world so I thought…well why not?! We arrived at Freefall and I was soon being kitted out with a jumpsuit, goggles and hat…not very attractive! A package was strapped around my waist and I inquired as to what it was…’a lifejacket!’ hmm interesting I thought…I’d much prefer a parachute instead though!! Thankfully the parachute soon arrived strapped safely to the back of my jump master Chris! The lifejacket was just a precaution as we were jumping over Lake Taupo. With scarily little instruction…‘be a banana’ (the shape you have to hold mid air) we were off and in the plane along with 5 other jumpers, their dive masters and various video cameras attached to the heads of free fallers to capture the shenanigans! We dropped three people off at 12,000ft, definitely a funny feeling to have the occupancy of the plane halved without having touched the ground! As the cabin was unpressurised it was oxygen all round for the final part of the ascent. Then the time came to jump! 15,000ft! The first few seconds of just falling through the air were the best,j just tumbling down. Then a little parachute is released and you level out…obviously still dropping rapidly towards the ground though! The freefall lasts 60 seconds but it felt like 10! After striking some poses for my camerawoman Michelle it was soon time to wave her goodbye as Chris deployed the main parachute and we drifted to the ground enjoying the brilliant views over Lake Taupo! It was very exhilarating but not scary like I thought it would be as you feel very safe with a big professional strapped to your back! Watched the video back on the ground which was very funny. It was back down the road to Rotorua to stay for a couple of nights. Not sure I could live in Rotorua though because there is quite a strong sulphur smell! The holiday park had some thermal pools which were really relaxing and one day Dad and I ventured down to the thermally heated Lake Rotorua for a swim, however the water is quite shallow so it was more of a dip!! Our first activity in Rotorua was to visit the hospital! When we were watching my skydive video back Mum twisted her hand getting up and it was painful and swollen. The verdict from the doctor was a ruptured ligament and Mum was plastered up on one side of her arm from fingers to elbow! Good job we had done all the outdoor pursuits in the South Island!
That afternoon we visited the Rotorua Museum which was formerly a spa where the rich and famous came to ‘take the cure’ and bath in the warm water and splosh around in the mud!
One evening we visited the Mitai Maori Village for an evening of Maori song and dance and a hangi, a traditional meal cooked in an earth oven. We elected our ‘chief’ who would represent out ‘tribe’ in the welcome ceremony and would have to respond to the challenge and do the hongi, the pressing of noses which is the traditional Maori greeting.
The performance was really good and the Maori chief was really engaging when explaining all about the haka and the Maori tatooing, Moko. The haka was very impressive and the poi dances performed by the women were hypnotic!! The hangi was very tasty, basically a smoky roast dinner! Very yummy!

Our next destination was the Bay of Islands in the far north. Like it says on the tin….a picturesque bay of islands! We went on a day boat trip around the islands, as we pulled out of the harbour the heavens opened! Oh dear! Oh well we were on the boat so may as well make the most of it, dolphin spotting as we went, we saw lots swimming along with the boat. We headed out into the rougher water to visit the Hole in the Rock a big hole the whole boat could fit through!…however it was so rough Mum and I felt rather ill so couldn’t have cared less if there was a hole in the earth at that point! Once we got back into the shelter of the islands we felt much better and thankfully felt fine by lunch time where we stopped at a gorgeous little island to relax in the sunshine which had appeared!
We relaxed for the next few days, enjoying the weather, one morning Dad and I hired a kayak to paddle up the estuary to a waterfall. He was up to his old tricks of not paddling and taking photos instead!! The area was gearing up for Waitangi Day the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi the founding document of New Zealand when the Queen assumed sovereignty. Lots of tribes were arriving with their waka (canoes) and at out campsite they were practicing their moves for the race- on dry land!
We visited another Maori show which told the story of the Treaty of Waitangi and was actually performed in the historic meeting house on the Treaty Grounds. It was a brilliant performance, very different to the Mitai show, they took it a lot more seriously! The Maori dancing and songs were really spectacular.
Heading back down to Auckland we stopped off in Whangerei to visit Chris and Richard who I met in Cambodia, they cooked us a lovely meal and it was great to catch up!
The final stop on our grand tour of New Zealand was Auckland meaning Mum and Dad had come a full circle as they flew into Auckland originally. Dropped off Harry the Horsebox, he had done us proud getting up all the hills/mountains in NZ...there are quite a few!
Spent our last few days sightseeing around Auckland. We went down to the harbour and saw all the pacific cup racing boats. Took the ferry over to Devonport and climbed up Mt Victoria for a gorgeous view over the harbour and the boat racing. On our final night we went for dinner at the top of the Sky Tower, the view over the city was brilliant and all lit up at night it looked very pretty. The food was gorgeous too, fresh seafood, sushi and the best desert selection you’ve ever seen…of course we gave them all a thorough try!
The next day it was time to say goodbye to Mum and Dad. We had a wonderful five weeks seeing all New Zealand had to offer, its been very action packed, I think I’ll spend the first week in Chile just having a rest!

Posted by VanessaT 14:34 Archived in New Zealand Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Abel Tasman adventures!!

sunny 26 °C
View Backpacking 08/09 on VanessaT's travel map.

It rained all the way to Abel Tasman and for the afternoon when we got there, we were a bit worried because the next day we were booked on a sea kayaking trip! Eek, maybe we were going to get a bit wet! However we needn’t have feared because the morning arrived and it was beautiful- lovely and warm. Off down to the beach to meet our guide and get our kayak instruction. Mum and Dad, together in a kayak….was this a good idea??! These were proper sea kayak jobbies with a rudder and pedals and everything! None of the ‘throw you in and see if you float’ approach you get in Asia! All the instruction was going swimmingly until capsizing was mentioned…at this point Mums face did drop a little! When we were put through a drill of how to unhook the splash skirt if we happened to be stuck in the kayak underwater…Mums face dropped a bit more! No time to think about that though as we were off, heading out into the, thankfully calm, waters of the Tasman Bay.
Had a leisurely paddle up the coastline to Split Apple Rock, as the name suggests, a big rock that’s split in two! The Maori legend goes that the god of the sea and the god of the land thought it was a magical egg and both had dibs on it. They got into a fight and broke it into two halves, they discovered it wasn’t actually a magical egg it was just a plain old rock and soon lost interest! Or for the more geologically minded- its thought that there was a supporting rock that was eroded by the sea and as it disintegrated, caused the rock on top to split open as it fell.
We had a short break on the beach and had a look around a few caves which at high tide you can actually paddle through. Our guide suggested if anyone wanted to, now was the time to swap kayak partners! So how were things in the Thomas kayak??! Well with Dad in the back in charge of steering and Mum in the front navigating I think they were plotting a course for divorce!! Especially when Mum caught Dad taking photos instead of paddling!
Paddled back to Kaiteriteri beach, were definitely ready for our lunch! In the afternoon we hopped aboard the catamaran to head further up the coast to Anchorage, a beautiful stretch of golden sandy beach. After a trek over the headland we reached Te Pukatea Bay, an even more beautiful cove and we spent the afternoon relaxing before catching the catamaran back. We had a brilliant day, thanks to Uncle David and Auntie Barbara for a great Christmas present!!

Another day, another foray into the national park. This time under our own steam! We went tramping (Kiwi speak for walking!) to Tinline bay for another afternoon of relaxation next to the turquoise waters.
It was our last full day on the South Island and we drove to Nelson, a small town to have a look around, then headed on to Picton where we were due to catch the ferry to the North Island the next morning.

Mum and Dad had upgraded us to Club Class so we spent the voyage drinking and eating the complimentary tea and biscuits, reading all the free magazines and watching tv, this was the life! The three hour journey was over in a flash and we were in Wellington before we knew it. That evening Mum cooked a roast dinner, my first since I left the UK! We had everything, home-made Yorkshires, gravy, stuffing, the works! Thanks Mum!

Spent a full day exploring Wellington, Visited Old St Pauls, one of the oldest churches in NZ, made from wood which is very strange when we are so used to seeing churches made of stone. The church had a strong connection with the GI’s based in NZ during WWII and there was a small exhibition documenting this with video interviews. I still maintain that’s the key to putting on a successful exhibition- the human element, all the best museums I’ve been to have had that.
Walked past the government buildings, the very strange beehive parliament building, which looks like a massive old slide projector! Then it was onto Te Papa the national museum of New Zealand where we whiled away the afternoon, rode the earthquake simulator (quite realistic!) and stared in amazement at the very weird colossal squid!

In the evening I caught up with an old school friend. We went to the Botanical Gardens where they are holding a series of concerts over the summer (NZ’s summer that is!) and every night in Jan and Feb there is a free concert! Brilliant! Took a picnic and sat around chatting, really nice relaxed atmosphere and the band were great!

Once more it was back on the road, north to Napier, a town famous for all its Art Deco buildings, Dad and Mum were in their element! It’s a shame because some of the buildings have modern signage now which kind of spoils the impact but I suppose at the end of the day people do have to run businesses in the town. We were planning to camp there the night but instead pushed onto Lake Taupo the biggest lake in NZ. All parked up now and just had some dinner. The weather has been lovely today, pleased to say I could get the shorts on and get the tan going again! The landscape is very different here in the North Island, on the whole a lot flatter, the roads are better here and a lot less twisty!

Posted by VanessaT 01:21 Archived in New Zealand Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Glaciers and gliding!

sunny 26 °C
View Backpacking 08/09 on VanessaT's travel map.

Next stop was Queeenstown, the extreme sports centre of New Zealand! Were we feeling brave?? So much to choose from, we could jump into thin air off bungy platforms, swing across canyons or throw ourselves off mountains! Obviously not very brave on our first day because we cruised across Lake Wakatipi on the steamship TSS Earnslaw hahaha!!! Was a nice journey around the lake, you could look down in the centre of the ship to see the working engine room where two boiler men were working hard shoveling up to 2 tonnes of coal per journey into the furnaces!!! Rather them than me! Day two and we were feeling a bit more adventurous, it was time for another form of water transport this time the Shotover Jet! We were hurtled down the Shotover canyon by two big V8 engines, skimming along in only 10cms of water at some points. Then came the famous 360 degree spin, our driver Nick gave us the signal to hang on tight and we were off, being flung around the river completely out of control! Great fun!! After our white knuckle ride it was time to shed the splash coats and lifejackets to head back into Queenstown. Made a detour past the Remarkable Sweet shop which sells about every kind of sweet you can imagine including the most delicious freshly baked fudge….with free tasting…well if you insist!! Dad and I managed to restrain ourselves and only tried about 5 (over two trips!! Haha).
Day three and someone was feeling adventurous…it was Dad who had decided to throw himself off a mountain…in the safe hands of Piers his paragliding pilot! We rode the cable gondola up to the launch side…about a third of the way up Dad asked me how much higher we had to go…um, quite a way more Dad!!! He started to look a bit worried after that as we were quite high by then already!! We headed up the hill (with Piers carrying his 35kg paragliding wing!!!!). Bit surprised when we reached the launch site, it was about 10m of grass then a sheer drop, thought it would take a bit more of a run up than that!!! Mum was down on the ground with video camera at the ready, we had a system all worked out, I’d txt with the colour of the wing and direction of take off so she would know which was Dad…message away, it was all good. Then we discovered the wing had KFC on it so messaged that, then the wind changed so the take off was in a different direction so had to txt that! Final signal was a ring on our NZ number to say Dad had taken off! What with the pressure of capturing the moment on film and numerous mobile phones I think Mum was a nervous wreck by the end of the flight and Dad was cool as a cucumber!

After a cooked breakfast to celebrate Dad still being in one piece we headed up the road to Wanaka. Just as beautiful as Queenstown, if not more as its much less developed. We went to the local cinema in the afternoon, Cinema Paradiso. Opened in 1985, it’s a one screen cinema, basically in a big shed! The seating is made up of lots of different old sofas and recliners, theres even an old Morris Minor you can sit in!! Apparently the locals leave their old sofas outside the cinema so they can be used for seating. The toilets and projection room are all plastered with old movie posters. Its an old style projector and the film goes a bit squiffy when they change between the reels!! One time they were screening Star Wars and the projectionist accidentally put on reel 6 after reel 3 and it cut to the end and a big fight scene, he was none the wiser having never seen it before and one of the audience members had to knock on the window of the projection room and tell him!! Classic! All the staff were really lovely and it was so relaxed, I wish that was my local cinema!

Back in Harry the Horsebox and cruised to our next stop, the Fox Glacier. Mum and Dad came up trumps again with a helihike on the glacier!! How exciting! Hooked up at the campsite and saw one of the strangest sights I’ve ever seen! A German tour called the Rotel. Basically a massive arctic truck- which they sleep in!! One side is covered in little windows where their bunks are and the other side has a fold out awning section with all the supplies in the back. They go off in the coach while the lorry goes ahead to set up at the next campsite! Probably about 20 of them, all sleeping in a lorry!! They were very efficient and off early the next morning as we walked up the road to rendezvous for our helihike. Were told at the glacier guiding place that the weather didn’t look too good and rain was forecast for later in the day but we were ok to head up for now- they did issue us with big rain jackets though!! Caught the slightly temperamental retro Bedford bus down to the helipad and were given boots and socks and it was time to fly up!!! The flight up to the glacier was great, the views of the glacier were spectacular, the pilot flew us around in a little loop before we landed….on our very high tech helipad….a ring of rocks in the ice! Nice! Out the helicopter out onto the ice…oooer this stuff is slippy!! We all had to crouch down to avoid being blown over by the helicopters downdraft. Time for the very useful additions of crampons and alpenstocks…felt a lot more stable with those! We were up on the glacier for 2 hours hiking around and exploring ice caves and tunnels. Our guide Simon hacked out steps for the difficult bits so it was pretty easy going, you just had to make sure you gave your crampons a good stamp into the ice. It was like another world up there, was very strange to think that just around the corner were fields and towns where it wasn’t cold at all! We were very lucky with the weather, it was lovely, no rain, the cloud kept coming and going though, it was amazing how quickly the cloud could descend along the glacier. As we were arriving we saw a lone guy hiking up the glacier, turned out to be one of the glacier guides who was off on a hike of his own. He had started off the day before and slept overnight on the glacier and was now off up to one of the huts on top of the glacier…all on his own! He mentioned the weather and didn’t seem too concerned ‘if it gets bad I’ll just stay another day and hike out the next morning!’ Rather you than me mate!!! Apparently the Fox glacier guiding company have emergency barrels with tents, food, warming clothing etc just incase you do get stuck because of bad weather! Luckily we didn’t have any cause to use them and all too soon it was time to hop back in the helicopter and fly back down to the town. As we were taking off our socks and boots the guy in the boot room said..'if you could straighten out your socks so they look like they havent been worn for the next group that would be great' Ewww! Glad we had worn our own socks underneath the thick ones!

Time to move on again and we were heading for Arthurs Pass, I found a shortcut in the map book and after checking it was drivable and sealed we headed off. Halfway along the road the tarmac ended and we were onto gravel..oops!! The road became really twisty and climbed up pretty high. We were driving along it, kicking up the biggest dust cloud for what seemed like forever! I was starting to think we had gone the wrong way, it all got a bit tense in the cab for a while! All of a sudden we popped out at the junction, I still wasn’t convinced we were in the right place and had to wait for the next town to be sure!! We reached Arthurs Pass for our first night of freedom camping, we weren’t quite in the middle of nowhere though, there was a Department of Conservation hut nearby so a few motor homes and tents were nearby. That was lucky for the family next to us who had just discovered their gas bottle was completely empty after being assured by their hire company it was full! We lent them ours so they could cook their dinner!

The weather had been nice when we arrived but the next morning it was blowing a gale and being in a gorge it was just funneling the wind down, the rain was coming down in sheets! Not much we could do in the Pass in that weather so headed out and up towards Abel Tasman National Park. Lucky for me, the rain did a good job of cleaning the motorhome of all the dust from the day before!

Posted by VanessaT 19:36 Archived in New Zealand Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

(Entries 6 - 10 of 53) « Page 1 [2] 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 .. »