Ruta 40

Bariloche, Argentina
“Running parallel to the Andes mountain range it brings together some of the most amazing landscapes”

Ruta 40 is one of the famous drives in Argentina, running parallel to the Andes mountain range it brings together some of the most amazing landscapes. It was between Christmas and New Year that I travelled this route and enjoyed some wonderful experiences. Starting with Christmas in Bariloche, the chocolate capital of Argentina, and ending in El Calafate on New Years Eve with the bonus of getting to see one of the most famous glaciers, Perito Moreno on New Years Day – as one of my friends said “What a way to start 2008”!!

Bariloche
A special time of the year for most people, it was great to spend Christmas in such a scenic place where everything faces the lake. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, around 25 degrees and sunny. I must say it did feel odd to Kayak on the lake in the hot sun and yet still see snow capped mountains. Christmas Day I spent relaxing, walking about 7km into town and eating a picnic lunch under a palm tree with Ruth and Karen. It was only the evening when the party started when I met the rest of the over landers for a great Christmas Dinner and steak and mushroom sauce and of course the best part of exchanging Secret Santa Gifts!!

El Chalten
Alternatively known as the windiest place ever known in my opinion – I don’t think I have ever been blown around so much!! It did make the thought of camping for 2 nights in the rain, wind and cold not too appealing and the opportunity to bunk up with 5 others in a tiny weeny cabin a total luxury.

It was here in El Chalten that I got my first glimpse of a glacier and all I can say is Wow! I even got the chance to walk on Glacier Viedma which for me was a great but slightly scary experience. Walking down a 70 degree slope in just shoes with metal clips was a tad overwhelming – but you know me, not shy at asking for help especially when the tour guides were so cute. The bonus was I didn┬┤t have to ask twice they willing fought over who was going to help me – aaahhh Argentinian men ­čÖé

On our second day five of us woke up and put on our beanies and gloves in order to take a small hike for a glimpse of the Fitz Roy Glacier – at first we couldn┬┤t see it but once the clouds lifted it was well worth the walk – I do however think the hot chocolate at the end was an even better end to the day.

El Calafate
New Year celebrations started on the 31st with a glass of vino in town to celebrate the end of 2007 and all good things I am about to see in 2008. Having got to bed at 6am in the morning the Perito Moreno Glacier on the 1st still had the wow factor and it was very exciting to watch some of the glacier break off into the water.

I hope all of you had an exciting holiday season and are enjoying a good 2008!

My visit to Rapa Nui

 

“One of the most remote inhabited places on earth, some 3800km from the closest civilization”

Easter Island, Chile


I walked along the green and brown grassy plains, while the wind wrapped around me. The view in front of me was magnificent, navy blue and aquamarine foamy waves constantly crashing into the rugged coastline. A coastline that seemed to go on forever – well I guess I was on an island! Isla de Pascua (Easter Island) to be precise, one of the most remote inhabited places on earth, some 3800km from the closest civilization. I wanted to stop and keep looking, take in the views slowly but something made me keep walking and then I saw him – Ahu Ko te Riku – one of the biggest Moai┬┤s on the island noticeable by it’s red hat and white eyes. Impressed – most definitely and this was only my first day!!I have spent about 5 days on the island so far and there has been so much to take in and so much to see that I am still trying to decided between a number of things what my favourite place was and what activity I enjoyed the most? Was it…

Thinking @ Playa Pea
Aptly named Pea – it is probably one of the smallest beaches on the island. It became my haven for hours while I put my thoughts together so that I could share some of the magic of the island with you.

Relaxing @ Anakena Beach
Well you should all know me by now – if there is a beach around I will find it. Anakena is the most beautiful beach on the island, I spent the day relaxing either staring at the turquoise water or admiring the Ahu Nau Nau Altar – the best preserved alter on the island only for the fact that it was hidden for many years under the sand.

Driving @ slow speed
Maximum speed was 60km on the tar road and there is only two! I was lucky enough to meet some lovely people at the hostel and hire a 4×4 for the day. I drove around the island for about 8 hours stopping at some wonderful sites: Maoi, Ahu, fallen Maoi, volcanoes and beaches all the time giving ourselves enough time to take photos, explore and have lunch – far more than if we joined a tour for the day.

Taking Pictures @ Volcano Rano Raraku
Nicknamed the ┬┤Quarry┬┤ or the ┬┤Nursery┬┤, this is where it is believed the statues were built and you can still see many in different stages of development. My favourite part of this site was walking into the volcano to see the many undisturbed statues amoung the yellow flowers and of course taking lots and lots of photos.

Just looking @ Ahu Tongariki Alter
The most well known or photographed alter, standing tall with 15 statues. These remarkable Moai┬┤s have twice been toppled in their life time – once during inter-war fighting and then again when a tsunami hit the island. You must admit they are in pretty good shape for taking such a beating.

Exercising @ Volcano Rano Kau
Taking a 1┬Ż hour walk along the coast and through many trees up to this Volcano was great exercise. All made worthwhile by the beautiful view – a blue and green crater reflecting in the sun.

I have not mentioned everything on the island you will be pleased to know! There are about 900 Moai and 270 Ahu┬┤s scattered around the coastline and judging by my photos I have done a good job in trying to snap them all. Probably it was a good idea not having captured them all but I will definately be leaving this spiritual place feeling relaxed, content in knowing that I have experienced all the elements the island had to offer. But it will seem that I will still be leaving the island asking myself one question – Why do all the statues face inland?

Where I stayed:
Kona Tau Youth Hostel

Definitions:
Moai = Statues
Ahu = Alters

Sea Lions rule the bay

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador


The Galapagos – a place so enriched with wildlife, it is hard to imagine some of these beautiful creatures are still endangered.

The Galapagos – takes you back in time, to a prehistoric world, a world filled with giant tortoises and iguanas. There are many ways I can describe these islands and for me and I am sure for everyone that has visited or will be visiting a complete privilege, an all enthralling experience each and every day.

I was lucky enough to spend a week in the Galapagos, with 5 days being on a small cruise boat, Aida Maria, exploring the south islands with 14 other just as excitable passengers.

My first few days on Santa Cruz island were like being part of a cartoon – a magical land where everything seems perfect. I walked along the pure white sand of Turtle Bay while watching deep black marine iguanas merge from the sea, returning just a slight tilting of the head in acknowledgment that you were there. There were plenty of them along with bright red crabs scattered on the rocks, peering and watching you warily as you passed.

If time had stood still, this is where I would want to be! I know it sounds surreal and I will admit I asked myself the same question was everything truly happening, was I actually gazing out at the sunset over the ocean while spotting elegant manta-rays somersaulting out the water at intermittent occasions.

The boat I stayed on was great and the bonus was I had a small cabin to myself with bathroom. There was enough space on deck to enjoy the views and something I am not used too – mounds and mounds of food. My only excuse for eating it all was I needed to keep my energy up for my next excursion – which for me generally meant racing around in the water with my camera trying to capture all the fish I could see.

My route took me around the south islands: Santa Cruz, Santa Fe, Espa├▒ola and Floreana. Each offered something new and more of the same beautiful creatures.

The sea lions ruled the bay – on every island they were irresistibly cute: dreaming contently in the sun, playing in the surf and swimming around you while you snorkelled.

While I wasn’t in or on the water, I was walking around the islands visiting both marine and land iguanas, seeing the famous blue footed boobies – you guessed it the ones with the bright blue feet and watching the albatross waddle to the cliff edge to take off into the sky.

On my last full day sailing I got a chance to snorkel in an amazing place – Devils Crown. The water was crystal clear and I got to experience snorkelling with black tip reef sharks (plenty of them just lurking below you), marble rays, turtles, tropical fish and sea lions all the time while admiring the stunning rock bottom covered in electric blue and orange starfish.

┬┤Can I stay longer?` was my first thought when it was time to leave this place. A place I hope to one day return. A place I will hope will stay as enriched and magical for all who visit.


 

Culture Time

Bogota, Colombia


After a lazy few days in Cartagena it was back to Bogota for a bit of Culture. I was unsure of what I was to find in this city but I was surprised to be greeted by beautiful Colonial architecture and art. I had also not expected the drop in temperature and I am sure my jumper got a complete shock to be pulled out the bottom of the bag for the first time in three months.

I generally wandered around the the historic center of the city, La Candelaria, which is filled with churches and museums taking pictures and visiting some of the must see places.

Donacion Botero
Is one of the art museums in Bogota holding the collections of Fernando Botero. For those that don’t know, Botero is a famous Colombian artist well know for his satirical take on human plumpness. I was pleasantly surprised and delighted by his work (pictures included) with my favourite being Mother Superior. I friend who is a dietician had decided that these will work wonders in her office at the NHS as an incentive to lose weight ­čÖé

Police Museum
I rushed in here about 30mins before closing time which was an added bonus as the young policeman took me straight to the most interesting and probably the most visited section of the museum – the story of the capture and demise of cartel leader, Pablo Escobar, who was finally killed in December 1993 by an elite armed unit known as the Search Block.

The actual museum is nothing fancy but houses Escobar┬┤s Harley Davidson which I think is worth around 200million CO Pesos, his jacket he wore when he was killed, the original ┬┤wanted┬┤posters for his capture and what looks now like very antiquated tracking equipment which was used to find him after his escape from jail.

The museum also shows you photos of all those working for Escobar along with pictures of the killings of each of the leaders – a bit gruesome but guess they want to prove that they actually killed these people.

Plaza Bolivar
I was also there to witness a day of remembrance for all the people that died on the 9th April following the assassination of the most popular politician Jore Eliecer Gaitan. Bolivar Plaza – normally known to be filled with pigeons was also covered in white bricks each symbolising a person that had died (I do apologise if some facts here are not too accurate – my Spanish is not that perfect yet).

A 400-year old town
Leaving Bogota behind I continued my journey to the peaceful and friendly town of Villa de Leyva, about a 4 hour drive from the city, if your bus doesn’t break down that is…

The town is Spanish looking with lots of friendly people. Everywhere you walk you are greeted by the locals with a nod of the head, a smile or a just a simple ┬┤Hola` and it certainly makes you feel very safe to just wonder around.

It also meant that I felt confident enough to walk on my own to find one of the local vineyards some 20 minutes away. It was my first wine tasting/tour in Spanish which was quite a challenge but as the Guanani Vineyard is quite small I was able to grasp the main points and find out that the vineyard only had 5 members of staff with most of the work still done by hand. I got to sample some very tasty wines as well as a fruit wine made from a tropical sweet and sour fruit called Fei-Joa.

I was sad to leave the cosy town of Villa de Leyva and even more sad to have to leave Colombia all together. I do hope to return someday (when I have some more money) to visit more beautiful places like San Andres and Santa Martha.


 

Local buses, white sand and a colonial town

Cartagena, Colombia

 


I fell in love with Colombia the moment I landed at the airport. Strange – yes, but everyone was so friendly and full of smiles that it was hard not too – a total contrast to the Venezuela.

I caught a connecting flight from Bogota to Cartagena, a beautiful colonial town where the warmth of the people is highlighted together with earthy tones of mustard, terracotta and pine green painted houses and shops. You could certainly get caught up for days wondering the streets, indulging indulging in numerous cups of coffee in the many plazas but a trip to Cartagena is not complete without a visit to Playa Blanca – (translated as White Beach.)

To reach Playa Blanca you can take the tourist route by hopping on a boat for about 15,000 CO Pesos each way but what they don’t tell you is that you can also reach the beach by taking the bus from the local market. This would be the local peoples` preference as it is obviously cheaper even though it is a longer journey.

I was more interested in riding along with the locals to the beach so four us decided to hop on the bus and see where it took us. It was not too straight forward – it took a bus, a ride on a ferry across the river and then another bus along a windy, sand road. I was at one stage wondering if we were indeed heading for the beach but decided that because everyone seemed really happy and having fun on the journey that if we did not get to Playa Blanca then at least it would be an interesting place.

I was not too be disappointed as I was greeted at the end of my journey by a exquisitely beautiful white sandy beach and a calm turquoise and blue sea – I certainly felt like I was in heaven. As it turned out the day got better and better the longer I lay on the beach.

My highlights include

  • Practicing my Spanish with the local artists trying to sell their wares and been told that I spoke very well
  • Receiving a massage
  • Being given a free necklace to wear by a local artist just because I was his new friend
  • Playing with five young Colombian girls on the beach and hearing all about their lives away from their home in Bogota and their love of music
  • Receiving a friendship bracelet from the young budding musicians
  • Chatting with the local students both local and foreign AND the best of all
  • Getting a free ride home on the bus with our new friends Jorge and Carlos. The free ride home on the bus was just fantastic. It was absolutely packed with people and scorching hot but I soon forgot all about it when the bus driver cranked up the music and everyone began to sing and exchange lots of laughs.

I have tried to capture some of my journey on video so that you can too experience what I did – it is not the greatest footage as the road was extremely bumpy. It should have taken us about 1┬Ż hours to get back to the city but as we had a mini breakdown (typical in South America) it took us closer to three hours.

I could not complain as the entertainment was first class and a typical reflection of the Colombian people. My perfect day extended into the night with our new friends as we joined them in having a drink and a lesson in some new salsa moves.

Beaches, major cities and stunning wildlife

Caracas, Venezuela

 


The simmering heat remained with me as I left the Orinoco Delta and made my way north towards the Caribbean sea. Even the local people were feeling it and the it was not uncommon to see children playing in portable swimming pools and picnics by the river but my favourite scene was a woman lying in a hammock cooling herself down with a garden hose – absolutely classic!

Beaches
Being the Easter break things were a lot busier than usual and there were a lot of people on the roads enjoying their holiday. Unfortunately it meant a relaxing time on Playa Colarado was permeated with crowded beaches, constantly loud music and most disappointedly streams and streams of rubbish littering this beautiful area. However, determined for a good beach I did manage to find (although the route to get there was most unpleasant and stinky) an almost deserted cove and got to enjoy a more relaxing time on the beach while watching the small crabs run up and down the beach.

Leaving Playa Colarado we visited the main city of Caracas before once again heading for the sea. This time we went to the sleepy town of El Choron near Puerto Colombia. The town was full of character with old buildings, wooden fruit stalls and other small shops.

Los Llanos
As much as I did not want to leave the beach the thrill of seeing some exotic animals was too exciting. So it was off to Los llanos (meaning the flat plains). Besides the beautiful bird life (I think we saw over 50 varieties of birds) I was extremely lucky to see a giant Anteater who unfortunately was far too fast to take a decent photo off and an Orinoco crocodile having its lunch.

The days were scorching hot but unfortunately we could not swim as the rivers are filled with cayman and piranha. A little less piranha now as we caught a few for our dinner that evening. In between spotting wildlife and catching fish we came across a Mata-Mata turtle – a wonderful find as this prehistoric turtle is not seen very often. Our guide picked it up to show us how its heads curls sideways into its body and I could not believe the stench. This is the reason why these turtles still remain today as the locals will not eat them because of the smell – aren’t we lucky!

One of the evenings we set off on the river in search of the night animals. You can┬┤t really see too much on the river at night and it was not long before I had my feet on the chair in front of me as fish constantly jumped into our boat – I was not sure if it was going to be a fish that could easily bite off my toe or those sneaky silver dollar fish just trying to scare me. It was a little tense for a while as we waited for another fish to hit us but all was forgotten when we spotted it – an anaconda – just a head as it was taking a breath of air. Our guide was in the water in a flash and after about 5 to 10 minutes had finally wrestled it out of its underwater cave for us to see. It was about 3 meters in length and a lot skinny than I had expected but it was still an Anaconda. Everyone got a chance to drape the snake around their necks and take lots and lots of photos – sorry to disappoint you all but I declined the offer and watched everyone else as they squealed in delight.

After we had got our fill of excitement it was off to the town of Merida, nestled in the Andes, to party at El Hoyo del Queque – described as the best bar in the world. We got to salsa all evening to the Latin American beats which was great fun.

Wildcats and Waterways

Orinoco Delta, Venezuela

 


I arrived at Boca Uracao – it was a Monday afternoon and the port was heaving with people most who were just actually sitting around and looking like they were taking in the atmosphere, pretty much like we were while we waited for our speed boat transportation.

For those who are unaware The Orinoco Delta is a series of waterways that weave through the jungle and the only way to get to the remote parts is by boat.

Finally my wish to see a jaguar came true when I arrived at the Orinoco Delta Lodge, my relaxing accommodation for two nights. He was still very much a baby and played a lot rougher than a kitten – I made sure my toes were tucked away – absolutely gorgeous to watch.

The Lodge I stayed at was really unique as each of the chalets had no windows but a series of mesh on all four sides allowing you to hear nature, see the river and sunrises without leaving the comfort of your bed – what bliss.

Staying at the lodge also let me experience close up some of the animals native to this area. ┬áThe lounge area was often visited by a Toucan and Macaw – who liked to sneak up on you for that last piece of bread on the plate, the very friendly Spider Monkey who often jumped up next too you to take your hand in his like you were his long lost friend – aahh! AND then there were the cats, the baby jaguar and the elegant Puma, who unfortunately but luckily for us was actually enclosed in a cage.

As I mentioned the only way to get around the Delta is by boat, so we spent most of our time on the water motoring up the waterways to view the beautiful surroundings, birds and sometimes if we were lucky some wild monkeys. On the riverbanks native inhabitants – the waroa Indians – still live. Their housing is very simplistic, a wooden construction on stilts, with a few hammocks and cooking equipment. We waved at the children as we went past them, but as they are reserved and shy in nature is was not too often we got a wave back. I was lucky to visit one of the families for lunch and smile at the little girl with big brown eyes.

It was an idyllic few days in the Delta before we had to catch the boat back to Boca Uracoa – which looked like a different place, the hustle and bustle had left the port – maybe they too were sad to see us leave.