Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Cuy, Canyons and the Capital

Arequipa, Colca Canyon, Lima, PERU: 19 - 26 March 2010

My first stop in Peru was the nice city of Arequipa. Highlights of my two days there included visiting a colourful convent and seeing the preserved body of a child sacrificed by the Incas. But my most memorable moment was being in a restaurant overlooking the main plaza (South America has a lot of impressive plazas, but Arequipa´s is one of the best given that there is a snow-capped mountain behind the cathedral that is looking onto the palm-tree-filled square) and eating the local speciality of cuy, i.e. guinea pig, which is served with its head and feet still attached. Ymm, crunchy!From Arequipa I went trekking in the nearby Colca Canyon. Although it is one of the deepest canyons in the world, trekking down into it and back up again wasn´t too hard. The amazing scenery, seeing huge condors flying right over my head, and relaxing in a true oasis at the bottom of the canyon certainly made for three enjoyable days.After the tranquility of Colca Canyon, I flew to the hot metropolis of Lima. I only spent two days there as I will probably end up back in Lima again. But in the short time I was there I saw two different sides of the capital - the bustling centre including the chaotic Chinatown, and the modern, peaceful beachfront. Reading on top of a cliff looking at the waves beneath while dozens of paragliders flew overhead certainly left me with a nice image of Lima.

Friday, March 19, 2010


San Pedro de Atacama, Iquique, CHILE: 15 - 18 March 2010

I spent two days in the fascinating oasis town of San Pedro de Atacama, in the middle of the driest desert in the world. In one jam-packed day I was up at 4am to get to a valley of geysers for sunrise (for breakfast we ate eggs that were hardboiled in the naturally boiling water surrounding us).
I ended that day watching the sunset while drinking a pisco sour in the incredible Valley of the Moon.
In between I relaxed in a thermal pool and then learned how to sand-board (i.e. its like snow-boarding except on sand dunes). It was great fun, but walking back up the dune after each go made we appreciate why ski resorts have chairlifts.
On St Patrick´s Day I spent the morning relaxing in San Pedro, then I bussed it to the coast and travelled up the scenic Panamerican Highway to the beach city of Iquique. There I again met up with my Czech friends Rudi and Jana, so I finished the day with a nice beer for the day that was in it. Waking up in a desert and going to slept next to the ocean shows the unique nature of Chile.

The next day was mostly spent relaxing on the beach and swimming in the Pacific - a nice way to spend my last full day in Chile.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Run for the hills!

Santiago, Valparaiso, La Serena, CHILE: 8 - 14 March 2010

I had intended to cross from southern Argentina to southern Chile, but the big earthquake in Chile (which people in my hostel in Bariloche felt but which I slept through) necesitated a change in my plan. So I double-backed on my route (i.e. I again did the 20 hour trip from the Lake District to Mendoza) and went from Mendoza to Santiago. Although it was a bit of a mission, crossing the Andes and watching the most amazing electrical storm I´ve ever seen made the trip memorable for the right reasons.

Santiago was the first really big city I´ve visited in quite awhile (it was my first time on an underground metro system since Mexico City). The main image of the two sunny days there was seeing Chilean flags everywhere, with ones in official buildings flying at half mast - the earthquake has certainly stirred up alot of patriotic feelings.From Santiago I went to the coastal city of Valpariso. Parts of this city are listed by UNESCO as being "world heritage sites" - sometimes I don´t know what those UNESCO people were thinking, as most of Valpariso was a just a grubby port with lots of shanty towns. But I will always remember Valpariso because while on the way to the beach we felt a tremor which was quickly followed by a tsunami warning; so we joined everyone in the city as they headed for the hills. It was quite exciting at the start, but after two hours of sitting on high ground looking at the sea the novelty had worn off. Still, good to have an earthquake/tsunami story.I then headed north to the pretty seaside town of La Serena. The highlight of my two days there was going stargazing at an observatory. Due to its dry climate and consequent lack of clouds, this part of Chile is ranked as one of the best in the world to see stars. The tour was excellent and seeing Saturn and its rings through a telescope was certainly memorable.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Last weeks of summer

Cafayate, Mendoza, Bariloche, El Bolson, ARGENTINA: 20 Feb - 7 March 2010

Based on friends´recommendations who described Cafayate as a quiet little town surrounded by amazing scenery, I headed there from Salta. But my weekend there coincided with La Serenata music festival so the town was anything but quiet! As this was one of the last weeks of the summer holidays (schools re-open on 1 March), the plaza was constantly packed with people, many of whom were engaged in a constant foam and flour fight. As well as going to the festival, where I saw the main act Jorge Rojas (a slightly sleazy, cheesy, tap-dancing folk crooner), during my time in Cafayate I did some free wine tasting at a local vineyard and I hiked up a river to a waterfall. Drinking wine and cooling off from the heat by plunging into freezing water would prove to be the theme of my few weeks in Argentina.
My next stop was Mendoza, a nice plaza-filled, tree-lined city. The highlight of my time there was the day I spent cycling with five people from the UK between a dozen or so vineyards. After several little tours and explanations and multiple tastings, my appreciation of good quality, cheap wine was certainly enhanced - the same could not be said of my cycling ability.

I continued south to the Lake District, centred around the pretty town of Bariloche. What an amazing place! I happily spent ten days in this most scenic of areas. The weather, which apparently had been bad just before I arrived, was gloriously sunny the whole time I was there. I first spent a few days doing treks, cycling and relaxing by lakes. I then teamed up with a girl from Devon for a three-day cycling and camping trip of the "Seven Lakes". We covered 150kms, about 40kms of which were on ripio, i.e. unpaved, rocky roads. Cycling uphill on those roads with panniers full of camping equipment on the back of my bike was a challenge, but the scenery made it totally worth it. The only downside was that my camera was stolen from a bag on my bike when I left it unattended for five minutes at one of our campsites. But luckilyI had backed up all my photos the day before and the camera is covered by my travel insurance, so it wasn´t a big deal. My time in the Lake District, and that three-day cycle in particular, has been a highlight of the first six months of my travels.