Saturday, 1 February 2014

Budget for South America

Thinking of going traveling in South America? Here is our budget for a seven week trip through Chile, Argentina, Bolivia and Peru.

Roughly speaking Chile costs as much as traveling in New Zealand, USA or Europe; Argentina is quite affordable and Bolivia and Peru are dirt cheap.

We shopped around on many websites to find the cheapest international flights. For when we wanted to travel, Qantas actually offered the cheapest return flight at $1700 NZD. The plane was run by LAN Airways.

We had one internal flight with Aerolineas Argentinas which cost us $800 NZD each.

We budgeted about 100 USD per day in Chile and Argentina, and 50 USD per day for Bolivia and Peru. This worked out to be reasonably close to what we ended up spending.

Tramp in the general vicinity of Five Passes

Sarah and I were out for a quiet dinner with my parents last Sunday night. We were talking about the tramps we wanted to do over the few weeks we had down in Te Anau, overnight trips into Lake Adelaide or around the Hump Ridge were mentioned. But there is one trip that has been on my bucket list for more than a decade - Five Passes. Dad pointed out that the extended forecast was the best he'd seen all summer and Sarah was keen to get straight into a longer tramping trip. The dinner turned swiftly into a planning session with me hastily scrawling notes on good campsites and trying to come up with a superb round trip.

We managed to borrow all the tramping equipment we didn't have and get some back-country cuisine from mum's outdoor shop: Bev's Tramping Gear Hire. All set for a five or six day adventure our packs weighed 18 and 22kg. My youngest brother Douglas dropped us off at Deadmans Track (near Gunn's Camp on the Hollyford road) just after midday on Monday. With heavy packs it made for a grueling start to a trip. The DOC website has this to say about Deadmans:
it is a challenging tramping route
It took us five hours of slowly labouring our way up to the Routeburn Track near Harris Saddle. Deadmans was surprisingly well marked and unsurprisingly steep.

We quickly got off the Routeburn Track and skirted our way around Lake Harris into the Valley of the Trolls. After meeting another couple of trampers about to attempt Mount Xenicus we made our way up a steep and imposing waterfall to our first campsite beside Lake Wilson.

Looking over the lake towards the watefall
The view from our tent at the first camp site
The following morning we made our way around the gorgeous lake and North into the Serpentine range proper. The tops travel was wonderful, open and easy going. We could mostly pick our path to avoid the patches of snow although we did get the ice axe out for a short accent.

Looking back down to Lake Wilson

This idyllic tops travel involved some amount of backtracking when we got bluffed out but by the end of the day we reached the first of two lakelets where we set up our second camp. We planned to make it to North Col and onto Lake Nerine on day three, steep rocky bluffs almost prevented that however we arrived around 3pm.

Sarah downclimbing to North Col
Unfortunately it was a very overcast day and rain was forecast for that evening, usually that wouldn't be a problem but the following day's route to Park Pass was described by Geoff Spearpoint in Moir's Guide as:
an unpleasantly steep sidle on snow grass
Geoff is not known for adding any superfluous words and I have first hand experience that snow grass can be evil when wet. With these factors in mind we decided to push on and walk an extra few hours North to Park Pass before the rain set in. The sidling was steep so when it started to rain that evening we were glad to have gotten past. Just to add insult to injury Park Pass was too windy to consider setting up the tent so we had to continue down to the bivy in the valley.

We were so tired that we quickly assembled the tent and cooked dinner in the tiny bivy. Our tent reached the rock roof so it was a bit claustrophobic. After dinner I thought I smelt smoke so walked around the large rock that we had called home - turns out the real bivy was on the other side! A party of two trampers were enjoying the large spacious shelter with a small fire. Although there was plenty of room we couldn't muster the energy to move around from our cave.

The next day was a pleasant stroll down the valley to Theatre Flat for lunch, before a grunt up to our last camp at Sugarloaf pass.

Our final day wasn't as easy as I'd assumed it would be, we just had to walk back to the divide via the nice smooth Routeburn Track. After slowly making our way through tussock and alpine scrubs the highway of the Routeburn was quick underfoot, but boy oh boy did it go on and on! We kept up a good pace until Haris Saddle then started to slow down as our feet started hurting. We made it out by dark but hitchhiking proved impossible so we had to set off the SPOT to get Douglas to come pick us up after work. As after any long tramp the shower was much appreciated - even though it was at midnight!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Observed Traffic Rules of South America

South American Driving Habits

Most countries in South America share a few driving attributes:
  • passing on blind corners
  • passing where there is barely any visible road
Roads were generally in poor condition and speed bumps were frequent yet unmarked.


Chile has the best quality roads observed in South America. Suffers from overuse of road signs especially around road works. Roads have lanes and cars stay in between the lines, indicators and speedometers appear to be fitted to most cars.

In some northern parts of Chile vehicles will actually stop for pedestrians. Don’t rely on this as in Santiago pedestrian crossings are simple decorated pieces of road; to be admired as one speeds through the pesky people walking there.


In theory you need an international driving license in Argentina - the rental car company didn’t bother checking though. Navigating through the large cities is quite scary, as adhering to lanes or speed limits is a foreign concept, once you’re out on the open road driving is very pleasant.
Fortune favors the brave. Most intersections are uncontrolled and he who hesitates gives way. Uncontrolled intersections often seem to have police standing on a corner, just observing the mayhem.
The laws of physics as applied to traffic are specially adapted for Argentina:
Cars with momentum keep their momentum.
Note large trucks will always have momentum.
The family car has been somewhat replaced in Argentina by the family motorcycle. You can often spot three people to a single motorbike.
Railway crossings can be scary - the arm only covers one lane and the drivers have no problem crossing in spite of the lights, bells and lowered arm!


The home of Death Road, Bolivia delivers some very alarming driving experiences. Roads were often gravel and always potholed. As we drove to the Death Road we witnessed an overloaded truck crash into a cliff - due to drivers taking double shifts and drugging up on Coca leaves.

Cars own the road, pedestrians are advised to run. The three or four lane roundabouts are often a safe crossing place as they appear to remain in a constant state of gridlock. In the slow traffic cars get extremely close to touching as they volley for position.

Honking is done regularly to indicate to pedestrians that a car is coming and they had better move. The horn is also used very liberally in an attempt to speed up traffic; the rule of thumb seems to be: when stationary, honk. The exception is when passengers are alighting a colectivo or taxi in the middle of the street, in this case the horn is used in conjunction with a shouting co-driver to attract a new passenger.


No sealed roads anywhere in sight in Peru. The rule of thumb seems to be bigger goes first, stop signs and the occasional traffic lights are only there for decoration.

Plenty of honking occurs although it is much more subdued than in Bolivia. Many vehicles will honk when approaching blind corners on single lane roads, or at intersections, simply to indicate they have no intention of stopping. Also taxis use the horn to attract customers, assuming that if you are walking down the street with hundreds of taxis passing you by you wouldn’t be capable of noticing one without a helpful honk to get your attention..

On the few wide roads cars will stop anywhere and pass anywhere. Three lane roads were often reduced to a single lane or even blocked of completely because of double and triple parked taxis and colectivos.
Peruvian buses and colectivos don’t care too much for seat allocations or maximum number of passengers. A two hour minivan ride wouldn’t really be worth while for the driver without managing to pack 20 paying passengers in. Buses will often have people standing and sitting in the aisles - even on extremely long bus trips.

Have fun!

Friday, 3 January 2014


After leaving Iguazu Falls we had another short stopover in Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires. This was our last sighting of the east coast of South America, the west (and home) was awaiting! We opted not to take the 17+ hour bus trip in favor of a flight. Our flight from Buenos Aires was delayed for an hour. We arrived in the high and dry city of Mendoza at 10pm but decided to take a taxi to a recommended campsite, situated in the hills, 6Km from the center of the city.

After setting up our tent under a little hatched shelter we decided to venture out to find some food. Everything we passed was closed so we ended up getting some horrible sandwiches for “dinner”. Thankfully we found a pizza place open on our walk back to the campsite. The next morning a stray dog enjoyed the ham sandwiches much more than we would have!

After a very hot night of using only our sleeping bag liners, we jumped into the pool to cool off. The sun wasn’t up yet, so the pool felt more than a little cold. After the swim we packed up our tent and our bags which proved to be rather difficult; after a shopping spree in Buenos Aires, our bags were overflowing with new shoes and clothes! Our heavy bags made the walk to the bus stop rather tiresome, but in no time at all we were in the center of Mendoza. Mendoza was hot, but not quite as stifling as Buenos Aires and Iguazu.
We stayed at Hostel Independencia, and immediately booked an afternoon wine tour which they offered. We visited two wineries and one olive farm and ended up buying five bottles of wine and three bottles of olive oil! We hope to bring four bottles of wine home for our families, the last one we’re saving for New Years.

After the wine tour we partook in hostel’s happy hour, free wine between 7pm to 8pm! More wine drinking!! After having a couple of glasses in a beautiful courtyard with a “grape vine canopy” we ventured out to explore the night markets situated in the park next to our hostel.

We tried to find sleep through an extremely hot night at Hostel Independencia - no air conditioning and very little fans made for hot stuffy rooms. One of the nicknames of Mendoza is Cold Mountain, as the mercury hits 40 degrees I don’t think the name is appropriate! Sadly we didn’t have more time to spend in Mendoza - the paragliding, rafting, bike wine tours and more were all so tempting. Definitely a place to stay for a while!

The next morning we walked to the bus station to buy a bus ticket to Santiago. Unfortunately our wallets were rather empty and the ATMs at the bus station were all out of cash (a common problem across South America) so we had to walk half a dozen blocks back into town to find a bank. By the time we made it back to the station, the bus that we had planned to take had almost sold out of tickets. We were forced to buy seats, 19 and 20, that were separated by an isle. Fortunately when we got on the bus, someone was willing to swap seats with us. We missed out on getting the Cama seats which give a bit more space and recline further than the semi-cama option.
crisis averted!
It was a stunning bus ride through the Andies to Santiago. Bring on the new year!

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Iguazu Falls

We had the pleasure of spending Christmas at one of the natural wonders of the world: Iguazu Falls.
Arrived at Tupa hostel in Iguazu township the morning before Christmas. Got straight into our swimmers and went for a swim. Luckily the pool provided some relief from the blistering heat!

Went for a walk into town, got a salad and a beer at a restaurant. The salad was mediocre at best, on our way back we stopped off at two supermarkets to buy ingredients for our Christmas lunch along with some extra hotel snacks.

After more swimming we decided to go to a steak-house for dinner. Argentina is very well known for its amazing steak and we wanted a repeat of our experience in Salta. Unfortunately the steak wasn’t that great, and to make matters worse the waiter didn’t understand that Sarah wasn’t happy with her over-cooked meat when she’d asked for her steak to be cooked rare. He simple took away the plate of half uneaten meat, smiling, assuming we’d both really enjoyed it but there had just been too much! One more frustration at not speaking the lingo.

Waking up on Christmas morning, a lovely breakfast was delivered to our room. Had cereal, croissants, yogurt, fruit and coffee. After breakfast, Sarah packed a Christmas lunch of tomato, basil and blue cheese salad, ricotta and olive stuffed capsicum, cherries, plums, chocolate and biscuits.

The plan for the day was to head to the national park that includes the world famous falls. As soon as we got the the bus stop, a bus arrived that would take us to Iguazu Falls. After arriving at the park and getting our tickets, we made our way to the train that would take us nearer to the water falls. It was around 35 degrees that day, so we were really eager to find a water fall to stand under.

After exploring the lower trails of the water fall we sat down in the shade and tucked into our plumbs, cherries, and a soy peach drink purchased by mistake. However our lunch was rudely interrupted by an inquisitive and slightly scary looking animal which hopped up onto our table, knocked our cup onto the ground and proceeded to finish our peach soy drink.

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After morning tea we hopped back on the train and made our way to the top of the falls, called Devils Throat. After getting of the train, it was another 20 minutes walk out to the edge of the water fall. This afforded fantastic views of the waterfall.
  • Flocks of birds and butterflies flying in and out of the water spray
  • Unpredictable water raining down on us when gusts of wind came in our direction
  • Gigantic amounts of water falling into the abyss

After devils throat we took an eco tour on an inflatable boat that rowed us down the back waters of the water fall.
  • Saw little turtles resting on twigs and logs.
  • Took off our shoes and dangled our feet over the side of the boat to cool our selves off. Didn’t lose any toes to piranha.
After the boat ride, we explored the upper portion of the falls. Had our Christmas lunch undisturbed by local animals. An appropriately colored Christmas salad. Then made our way to the jet boat that takes visitors right up to the base of the falls.

The jets boat ride was fantastic! Had time to take photos of the water falls before putting the camera into a dry bag. Jet boat went pretty much right under a couple of water falls! The last one had a huge amount of water come into our boat!! It was a fantastic way to cool off! We got absolutely drenched!

Back at the hostel, we had a quiet dinner using left over ingredients from our Christmas lunch and another nice red wine that we had bought. The next day we had a late lunch, swam in the hostel’s pool and went for a short walk into town. In the evening we walked to the viewing point were you could see Paraguay and Brazil at the same time.

The rest of our photos from a Christmas at Iguazu can be found in this Google+ album.