Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Argentina

A new country so time for a new blog post. We had a stunning bus ride over the Andes from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile into the Jujuy region in Argentina. The high mountain pass just kept going for such a long time. We met two Germans, an Australian and an Englishmen on the bus and all ended up going to the same hostel in the city of Salta. We all went out for dinner at a small local restaurant and had our first experience of just how much cheaper Argentina can be than Chile. We spent a day wandering around Salta, went to the local markets and ended up with a pizza that had significantly more cheese than bread! A visit to the Mirador via gondola gave a grand view of the city. We got lots of good information on where to go in Bolivia and Peru from the others who were heading south. After significant (re)planning for the next couple of weeks we decided to spend a few extra days in Argentina. We hired a small car with Amanda and Tom whom we had just met on the bus. Before leaving Salta we went to the restaurant, El viejo Jacks - the most amazing steak any of us had tasted.



Our road trip took us South towards the wine producing towns of Cafayate and Cachi. We drove past stunning natural rock formations, contrasted with bright green valleys. We stopped off for wine tasting at several vineyards and even got some goat's cheese. We bought a few bottles of wine to bring home but they got drunk over the next few days!








At a natural rock amphitheater Sarah sang for us, prompted a local merchant to ask if she had been in the Sound of Music! Other rock formations just begged to be climbed.



From the township of Cafayate we took a guided walk to see waterfalls. Although they weren't amazingly warm, we all went for a swim!

Sarah swimming in 6 degree water

At times the hike actually involved quite fun scrambles. I didn't think a guide would have been necessary but as there was no track it was a very good idea.


The next small town we stopped at was Cachi, Brian had a large chunk of goat for dinner. We went back to our hostel and swapped photos and exchanged specialist advice over wine. Tom runs a popular travel blog and is a Search Engine Optimizing (SEO) consultant so Brian got some advice for his websites and gave Tom some help with programming on his.

Heading back to Salta we had a picnic of bread sticks and goats cheese on a rather cold and exposed pass. The country side was full of cacti and wild(?) goats which were entertaining until a modern day shepherd approached us on his motorcycle asking why we were disturbing his goats.


We returned the hire car in Salta and decided to visit Jacks again as the first time was amazing. Unfortunately this time it didn't quite live up to expectations, Brian didn't receive his meal and both Amanda and Tom's steaks were overcooked (you could barely cut them with a spoon). Still a highly recommended place to visit! After killing another couple of hours we made our way to the bus station at midnight to catch our overnight bus to the border town of La Quiaca where our Bolivian adventures await.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Chile


The next stop on our journey north was a small town called Chañaral. The journey was over desolate land. Chañaral is a very poor, practically abandoned, town, forgotten mines marked the outskirts and many homes had caved in roofs. Our language difficulties came up while  ordering dinner, the waitress was laughing at our attempts to order a "fish of the day" meal. We stayed in a gorgeous hostel. Over breakfast we met some english speaking German travellers who helped teach us a bit more spanish. We left for the bus station with only about 15 minutes spare to get tickets but got approached just outside our hostel by a man asking us where we were headed. It took us a while to understand the question, but eventually we communicated that we wanted to head north and that we were heading to the bus terminal. He kept making gestures and offers that sounded like he wanted to take us. Obviously we were not too keen to jump in a car with a complete stranger so we were trying to back out of the conversation so we wouldn't miss our bus! The friendly Germans came to our rescue and acted as translators informing us that the man was actually a bus driver, tasked with delivering a brand new bus to Autofagasta - on the route we wished to take. He was just looking for anyone to join him for the long drive and was offering to take us there for free. It was a brand new bus, he had to unwrap a couple of seats for us! Although we struggled to communicate he made for a very good tourist guide, taking the scenic route and stopping off for photo shoots. Towards the end he even started teaching us some Spanish!



San Pedro de Atacama is a picturesque oasis town in the desert in Northern Chile. We spent a couple of nights there and both really enjoyed it. The town is surrounded by volcanoes and just outside the town were vast expanses of white crusty salt flats. We took a guided tour out to the Salt Flat's Lagoons where we had the experience of swimming in extremely salty water which added buoyancy. Floating in the salty lagoons was really amazing, no effort required. To rinse off we were taken to a small  fresh water lagoon involving a good jump into the chilly waters. We are not sure how the fresh water pools were formed as we couldn't understand our spanish tour guide. Lesson learnt, we didn't do enough research into our tour guide as there were other English speaking tour groups at the lagoons.




Leaving San Pedro was an interesting experience, we didn't have bus tickets booked so we were stressing a little bit as only one bus left for Argentina the day we wished to leave. We got up early and went to the ticket office but it didn't open until the bus was scheduled to arrive - on the other side of town. Just before the bus arrived we were told the price, which was unfortunately just over what we had in cash. Brian ran into town to try withdraw money from the ATM but the three he tried were out! Luckily some friendly Australians travelling came to our rescue, spotting us the equivalent of about $10AUD.

Coincidently we bumped into them in a tiny town in Argentina three days later and were able to pay them back.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Broken Spanish Words

Brian and I are in a town called Copiapo, We've been busing up the coast these last few days. Last night we were in Le Serena, and the night before that was Santiago. The towns are busy, crazy and filled with very few people who speak English, so Brian and I are really struggling to communicate. I actually resorted to using my pictionary skills to try and find out how much it costs to get our laundry done today. And yesterday I thought we were making some progress with our broken Spanish as it was relatively easy ordering our bus tickets to La Serena. But when I asked one last question, which I said in English very slowly whilst pointing to my ticket "bus station three, Si, now?," he answered in perfect English, with a very smug smile on his face "yes, the bus stop is number three, it is over there and it should be coming shortly." So it turns out he knew English all along hahaha
We're in a little hostel in Copiapo where you can still hear the bustling of the outside world. There is a presidential election coming up soon in Chile, so there are lots of people campaigning in the streets. People are marching in the streets with big flags and drums, campaign posters are everywhere and cars are driving around tooting their horn and playing loud festive music. You can see that Chileans are passionate about moving their country forward. Politics are very important over here.
Tomorrow we plan to check out the museum which is all about the mining of silver in Copiapo (one of the main reasons why the town exists) and then we'll be catching a bus to Caldera, which thankfully is only and hour an a half away.
I think that's all. Adios Amigos :) I'm off to practice my spanish on Duolingo.


Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Santiago

We've both arrived safely in Santiago, which, I might say is quite surprising as I had braced myself for not getting on the flight as it was overbooked and I was on a standby flight. I have been warned that the flights back to New Zealand are even harder to get on if you have a standby ticket.

We both got hit pretty hard by the jet lag and the heat. Hopefully our bodies will continue to adjust to the odd sleep patterns.

Our apartment in Santiago is great, we are on the 17th story looking across to a castle. Next door is a supermarket and we are about a block from the train station. Obviously it is much more expensive than a backpackers or other options but we figured we'd start the trip in style!

The hardest thing is definitely the language; ordering train tickets or paying for a meal is quite an ordeal! We are both doing an online course called duolingo.com but we are really struggling. It is also very tricky to know if we are getting ripped off because we can't speak spanish at all fluently.

There are lots of stray dogs that just wander the streets and sleep in the middle of the footpath here. Plenty of street vendors selling freshly squeezed orange juice and other tasty looking treats.

We visited the port town of Valparaíso today - such a busy place! A kind traveler from Spain saw our confused looks at the train station and offered to help us navigate through all the commuters. Eventually we made it to the bus terminal where we caught a luxurious bus to the sea side town. There were blocks filled with street vendors selling their various wares. We got a big bag of half a kg of strawberries for 300 CLP (about 70 cents NZ). Although tempted we stayed well away from the many carts of fresh fish being sold!

Tomorrow we say goodbye to Santiago for a while, as we head north towards a town called La Serena.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

The UCCC has sea kayaks!

Back when I was in the UCCC we wanted to expand our fleet from just whitewater and polo boats to include some sea kayaks and maybe even multi-sport boats. Over the last three years a massive effort has been put in by the club's committee to secure funding and purchase the first three sea kayaks.

So now the club now has two single sea kayaks and a double - and they are awesome! Also they are very large. Much much bigger than I expected, nothing like a Tuna or even an Overflow. I borrowed them last weekend as part of an elaborate stag race to Akaroa. I had to take the trailer as well - there is no way the double would have fit on my Subaru!

Remember kids, the ocean has a tide so pull your boats further up than we did!



Because they don't fit in the normal boat locker the UCSA looks after them. To hire them you have to get hold of the UCCC gear officer and then the custodian of the old UCSA building to let you in to get the boats. It can take a bit of organizing to pick up and drop them off. I'd recommend two people going to get the boats; otherwise like me you will end up having to ask the UCSA custodian to give you a hand (thanks Chris).

I paddled the double kayak across to quail island where we picked up our soon to be married friend. The boats were great and compared to creek boats have an unending number of compartments for gear. I'd highly recommend getting them out for a paddle from Lyttleton etc.

Very nice work UCCC!

Monday, 4 November 2013

Adiós Christchurch

I moved to Christchurch at the start of 2006 and have loved living here ever since. But today was my first day of unemployment, the first of many! 

Actually I physically worked harder today than any normal day at work; I spent most of the day mopping cupboards and sweeping walls as we move out at the end of the week.

So now I'm going to leave this awesome city behind. Sarah and I are going traveling for the next four months and then moving to Sydney next year. This time next week we'll be in Santiago trying desperately to learn enough Spanish to get around. We plan to write our adventures in this blog.

Adiós for now, although I'm sure its not goodbye for ever.