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!

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.

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.


 

Chasing Waterfalls

Ciudad Bolivar, Venezuela


I cant believe I have been in Venezuela for almost three weeks now and have not communicated with you all on my journey – I think I may have fallen into the Venezuelan mind set that not only is tomorrow another day but the day after next and the next….

The people here are way too chilled and so enjoy a more relaxing way of life. It does however seem in most parts that your role in society is defined by your gender as you often see men drinking beer in the street cafe┬┤s while the women look after the children while chatting to the lady next door. But hey everyone thinks it seems to follow the general South American lifestyle or attitude but it is the first time I have had to wait 1┬Ż hours for a hamburger or change my watch by only 30 minutes at the border so that they are in a different time zone – well they are in more ways than one. It is what makes the country unique and the reason why I have loved my time here.

Entering Venezuela from Brazil was a relief for me as for one I was now once again in Spanish speaking land and for another I did not quite gel with Brazil.

It was my time for a chilling out period and what was not a better way than exploring the beautiful landscape of the Gran Sabana. The Gran Sabana is in some cases pretty much flat vegetation intermingled with hardy colourful plants and waterfalls. I should not forget Mount Roraima where travellers around the world flock around the world to climb for magnificent views.

But for me it was the waterfalls that made it interesting. From the red floored waterfall Salto de Jaspe to the sharped angled waterfall of Salta de Kama and of course the most famous – Salto de Angel (Angel Falls). The highest waterfall in the world it falls from the Tepui some 980 meters to a rock pool beneath. Being the dry season there was not as much water as normal but the sheer fact you had to crane your next to see the top showed you just high up it actually was.

My trip to Angel Falls was great. Leaving from Ciudad Bolivar I caught a small 6 seater plane to Canaima National Park – I could not believe what a smooth ride it was and how breathtaking the scenery was, as we flew over green forests, meandering rivers and the flat rock formation of the Tepui.

It was an extremely hot day when I arrived so to cool down I took a motorised canoe across the Canaima Lagoon and walked under Salto de Sapo (one of the curtain waterfalls) for a throughly soaking shower. After sunning myself on the other side and drying my clothes I then had to retrace my steps underneath the waterfall in order to get back to the lodge for dinner.

The next day I was extremely excited as we were going up river to finally get a glimpse of the falls. The boat trip took about 4 hours and it was partly relaxing yet energetic as we maneuvered through the rapids trying not to get too wet as we dodged the bucket loads full of water splashing into the boat.

Once we reached our base camp it was about a 1┬Ż hour walk through the forest to get to the view point. My pictures do not do complete justice to the view but as I was looking at the waterfall I will still remember my mind saying ┬┤Wow – look how high it is!` I was pleased to have finally seen Angel Falls and that night I certainly looked forward to sleeping in my hammock in the open air to dream about waterfalls and surfing rapids.

 

Deep into the Jungle

Manaus, Brazil


I had never really had a picture in mind of what the jungle – The Amazonas – would look like. I guess my only idea was based on Walt Disney┬┤s ┬┤The Jungle Book` as a place filled with all these exotic animals – not quite! I had also not envisioned been guided through The Amazonos by an Indian Rastafarian from Guiana. He was quite a character, a all time Mr Cool, jungle junkie and nature lover who loved to sing ┬┤Everything is going to be alright`. He was at total ease with his surroundings which I found extremely alien and at times intimidating.

I spent three days and two nights in the jungle covered in my new perfume – also known as DET – on both body and clothes. I faired better than the rest of the group in the bite department but did annoy myself that I had to drink so much water as the result was always more more bites on the bum – those sneaky mossies just seemed to be waiting for the very moment.

I enjoyed the boat trips up and down the small channels of the Rio Amazonas for the breeze it brought in the heat, the distant view of the dense jungle and to sit quietly for a good couple of hours trying to catch Piranhas with pieces of fresh chicken. I managed to get a few nibbles as they feasted on my bait while clearly avoiding being caught – I am sure they must love novice fisherman. A few others were a lot luckier and it resulted in Piranha soup for lunch the following day.

Our night adventure on the water was eerie and exciting as we motored along the unnaturally calm river from bank to bank looking for Cayman which would be big enough to eat. I have never been on a hunt before and it is some serious business. One of the local jungle residents easily balanced on the boat and managed very quickly to spear and catch a female cayman. It was tied up for safe transportation back to base – well for the benefit of the passengers that was.

The next day we once again ventured on the river in search of some Pink Dolphins (yes they do exist) before trekking into the jungle for the night. I was not overly excited about the prospect but still needed to see what this jungle talk was all about. We made our camp (15 minute walk from the waters edge) using all resources the jungle could provide us with. So while some people helped chop down trees, others swept the area clean, built a BBQ or started marinating our skinned cayman in garlic, salt, lime and citrus herbs found in the jungle. I did ask myself at this stage who on earth would ever want to be on Survivor.

The cayman was just yummy – a smooth smokey flavour from the fire and neither tasted of chicken nor fish. It was not all about building camp and we made tracks into the jungle to explore. Our Rastafarian guide showed us medicinal plants for malaria, cuts, bruises, water vines (whose water tasted very sweet), how to make fans out of the local palm tree leaves, crack open fresh Brazil nuts with a machete and I guess the best highlight of the day was to see a tarantula.

Back at camp we set up our hammocks and mossie nets before settling down on a log to enjoy the relaxing properties of cacacha with dinner. Even with a few strategically placed candles the jungle was very very dark and I did hope that no snakes would be going for their nightly stroll. When it actually came down to going to bed it really was entertaining and annoying all at the same time as some people hammocks broke when safely settled inside and then to top it all once we were all in bed I found myself hitting the hard wet ground with a big thud – along with everyone else. This happened a few times and at this stage I did not appreciate the quirky saying of our guide ┬┤Everything is going to be alright` and wished ever so hard that the morning would come so we could leave this place that made me feel very uncomfortable.

I had a big smile as we got back on the boat and smiled even more when I got to see a sloth for the very first time. My jungle trip was finally over and I could not wait to get back to the city of Manaus.

Comment dowloaded from Travelpod
Green with envy!!!
Hey my dear… your jungle trip sounds AMAZING!!!! I’m very jealous and now DESPERATELY want to quit my job and do it all again!!! You sound like you are having great fun…. even if you hd to trek through the mozzie filled jungle….
Miss you!
L xxxx From lizzielizard77, on Mar 14, 2008 at 08:37AM

Ferrying with the locals

Ferrying with the locals
Manaus, Brazil


Described as an experience and a half, it was something I was dreading but in some crazy way getting excited about. It would also be (I kept telling myself) a great local experience to be living, eating and sleeping with the Brazilian people – no chance to go back to the safety of a hotel, hostel or tent. Prepared with hammock, snacks, water and other drinks I was ready for my three nights and four days on the river with about 150 local people…or was I?

Having put up my hammock up the day before leaving, it seemed somewhat spacious even though the 13 of us had to place our hammocks rather close and I mean arm to arm. However upon arriving the next day the 2nd deck was covered in an array of colours – there must have been 80 – 90 hammocks of all different sizes strung from beam to beam. We had to get our fighting hats on to protect our space, as the local people constantly tried to fit one more hammock amoung ours – Crazy. ┬áLimited Portuguese was a definite disadvantage but soon the international sound of huffing, puffing and tutting started to work its magic.

I was a bit apprehensive about what the food would be like on the ferry especially as the guidebooks all say that you receive brown rice (only brown as it is cooked in river water) and beans. I was pleasantly surprised as we all piled in shifts of 10 into the dinky dinning hall that the food was rather good – yes I had beans and rice but it wasn’t brown looking rice and included some delicious beef , salad and potatoes served a different way each day.

I enjoyed some good sunsets on board with a couple glasses of vino and watched and listened to the local people including children sing and dance to the constant music that played on board. The first night however was pretty much restless and I am sure some bruises will be appearing as I was elbowed in the cheek, hit on the head, sat on and kicked in the back. I did eventually go to sleep only to be woken at 5am with more people coming on board and of course a lot more hammocks!! Let me just say the trip to the bathroom was not just a colourful affair but also meant a lot of ducking and crawling.

After three nights we docked in Manuas at 2am in the morning and carried on sleeping till they kicked us off at 6am. If I had to sum up my time on board it was something that I am glad I did not miss, of course I thoroughly enjoyed my first shower in three days but I would give that all up again in order to share and experience once again this time with the Brazilian people and their way of travelling. I do also think we got extremely lucky with our ferry and maybe if the boat was a lot more packed I might not be singing in the same tune!

TravelPod Comments Downloaded:

Very beautiful sunset!
And hilarious hammock experience. Keep up the great writing!
Louise Brown
TravelPod Community Manager From Louise Brown, on Feb 29, 2008 at 08:29PM