Monday, 29 April 2013

Bolivia - You Unravel Me

Traveling non-stop is hard on your body. Your skin starts breaking out because its so dry or you get bed bugs from a dodgy hostel. All these minor things I could cope with. I've aleady given up a lot to be here and that includes creature comforts. However it all started to REALLY fall apart once we landed in Bolivia.

I feel as if this country ran up to me and went "want to know the real South America?" at which point it punched me in the head, kicked me in the stomach then ran away with all my money. Severe altitude sickness left me weak, vomiting, constantly nauseus and gasping for air at the smallest of tasks. At the same time food poisoning from the water in a fruit shake left me with diarrhoea and dehydrated. Some sort of insect had given me a swollen, red right eye and bottom lip. Plus I got a visit from Aunt flow, I needed more red blood cells, not less!

Kevin got really sick on our first night in Boliva where we went from around 2000m to 4500m in one day. He was in terrible shape and I spent the night by his side making sure he had everything he needed. And everyone who knows Kevin knows that he is lean, mean running machine. "If anyone was to get altitude sickness we thought it'd be me" I told one of our room mates. Famous last words. 

But it was partially my fault. I thought I was OK since we've been at elevation for 2 days now. So I had a small amount of red wine with my lama steak on the last night. And I know now that I wasn't drinking enough water. And then we went on that extra bumpy jeep ride to the Uyuni salt flats at 4am in the morning. And then I started throwing up. In fact I can proudly say there's a smudge of vomitus somewhere on those salt flats with my name on it. I took some gratuitous photos and then crawled into foetal position in the jeep for the rest of the day and didn't move. Not for lunch, not for the train cemetory. I was over it. 

But it was not over me. Just as the tour finished in Uyuni we were to take a 12 hour bus that same day straight to La Paz. We were promised a spacious, nice bus. "You don´t take risks in Bolivia" the travel agent told us due to the high liklihood of a drunk driver rolling the bus over a cliff. We got a shitbox that rattled so hard on the poorly made Bolivian dirt roads that I think I deserve some sort of medal for the herculean effort I made not to throw up and defile the one toilet we had on that bus.

On that bus Antoine, one of our lovely tour mates noticed Kevin tucking the blanket over my feet to make sure I didn't get cold. "Oo Toneee you arr so lucky!" he exclaimed in his french accent. I thought he was joking because out of the two of us I'd much rather be in his shoes. But I know he was right. I am very very lucky. To have Kevin who got me countless cups of coca tea, did our laundry, put beanies and socks on me and brought me chicken soup. I can't even fathom what I would have done on my own. So even though Bolivia broke me, Kevin carefully rebuilt me back up again.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Stunning Scenery of San Pedro, Atacama Desert

We stayed 3 nights in San Pedro and  most of those nights were filled with tours out into the desert. Our first tour involved going to Moon Valley and Death Valley. These dry and rocky terrain remind people of terrains of other planets so the name is apt. Honestly, I thought it was kind of boring.Nothing moves here. It´s just sand, salt and rock. But looking back on the photos, some of the landscape shots were pretty amazing.

The most impressive tour I found was the one to Cejar Lagoon which has so much salt in it that it is impossible to drown. It's an odd feeling when you first get in becaue your body feels off balance, just too light.  You're not supposed to put your head underwater because the water would really sting your eyes but then of course we got a group of hooligans who were diving into the water and the funniest part was when a Zach Galifianakis looking guy jumped right in and had appeared to swallow a lot of the water so when he emerged he was drooling like a rabid dog and gasping for air. He was also yelling "IT´S SO SALTY!". Oh dear. We also went to a fresh water lagooon and some small salt flats which were ok but nothing compared to the Bolivian ones.

Kevin showing off his moves.

Kevin doing a Marilyn.
A trip to the geysers meant a 4am wake up and -10 degree temperatures. Even with four warm layers on we felt it. Oh how we felt it. It was the coldest I had ever been, even going to the snow wasn't as cold as this. So we huddled together, taking token photos of the geysers but the highlight was when we got breakfast and warm boiled eggs we could warm up our hands with. Tragic isn't it? Well here are some of those token photos we got. Oh and I also ate a lama kebab. Nom  nom nom!

Our final  tour was one called ´Space´, because the skies are so clear in the desert you can see the stars really clearly. In fact the largest astronomical project called ALMA is situated high in the moutains here.  We got to see the signs of the zodiac in the sky and then got to use some big ass telescopes to check our a whole bunch of stars, the moon  and saturn. Plus our Canadian guide/astronomer was hilarious, "OK everyone walk 4 metres to your left, if you´re American just follow everyone else" (it's a metric system joke by the way). So I know a lot of you folks thought I was uber cool but I'm actually just a big nerd. But you gotta admit, these photos we took from the telescope are pretty awesome, especially being able to see the rings on saturn.

Next stop, Bolivia (even though my best Chilean friend Maria told me not to go there).

Friday, 19 April 2013

An Ode to Pho

An Ode to Pho

Noodles so white
Smooth and soft
Swimming happily
In a delicious broth

 Tender, raw beef
Sliced so thin
Cooked so slightly
Add some hoisin

It is you I miss most
 I'm filled with woe
That my stomach is empty
Of Vietnamese Pho.

I thought of this as I was halluciating of food on the 24 hour bus ride to San Pedro. We had neglected to eat lunch before we boarded and it was a looooong time til we got dinner which was pretty measly. I was so envious of all those people in Cabramatta stuffing their faces full of delicious Vietnamese food - Hu tieu, pork chops, banh xeo, crispy chicken with egg noodles and of course, Pho. Remember how lucky you are!

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Chile - where have you been all my life?

Imagine going to a place with snow capped active volcanies, hot springs and vast lakes with beautiful, lush forests in between. Then imagine going with amazing friends who let you stay at their grandparent´s cosy cabin, who drive you around and feed you delicious food and wine. This paradise life was ours this past week and I can´t help but gush about it.
We drove 10 hours south from Santiago to the picturesque town of Pucon (I´m told Leonardo Di Caprio stayed there recently). It's Autumn at the moment, the sun was shining and the air was very crisp. The land the cabin is situated on was bought by Maria´s grandparents for a bargain price of $300 by chance whilst they were driving by and the owner was desperate to sell due to the economic downturn. Much later they built the wooden cabin. Nowadays it would be wortht at least $200K.
The air is so fresh here and though the town is touristic it has a lot charm, what with the volcano and the tree filled moutains in the background. Nearby you can drive to the national park and climb the still active Villarica volcano  (you can see smoke rising from the top). We did the cráter walk which started from the charcoal remains of the lava rivers, through the forest (where the changing colours of the leaves made everything glow) to the base of the volcano where there are lava tunnels and the most spectualar view of the Andes and the two nearby lakes. We were lucky as it started to rain just as we got back to the car.

We took advantage of the bad weather by going to the hot springs the next day. There are a few options but we preferred the most rustic one where you just sit in  basic outside pools next to running river surrounded by forest. This is a night time activity and most of them are open til 2am. It was glorious just sitting in the hot wáter with the raining falling on my face and the sun fading into darkness. The contrast of hot and cold was such an odd sensation. 


We were taken to some very blue and clear lagoons which I would have loved to swim in but it was way too cold. It even seeemed too cold to do white wáter rafting but we did it anyway and for $50 per person we couln´t resist. Even though it was close to zero degrees that morning and we were constantly asking each other "WHO'S idea was this!!", we all found that the water wasn´t that cold and the rapids were exhilirating. There is now a very embaressing video of me jumping off a five metre rock screaming like a banshee with my arms flapping about. Hopefully it never gets released into the world.

And to top it off, we stopped by Maria´s mum´s old farmhouse on the way home where they grow blueberries. We were welcomed with so much warmth and had a picnic on a deck with the world´s best view looking down on the river with more moutains in the background. We had another amazing Chilean BBQ and spent the rest of the night next to the bonfire staring up a sky filled with thousands of stars. Plus they had 3 week old Golden retriever puppies we could play with and a hilarious chocolate lab called Cala who loved nothing more than a good stick and a belly rub (easy to please).


I will never forget the week here in Chile as I have seen and experienced so many magical things that I never could in my old life and I especially loved it whenever Maria said "next time you´re in Chile we should..." because YES! there will be a next time. I want to go skiing in the mountains only 40 minutes from Santiago and swim in the crystal clear wáters of Pucon in the summer and sunbake on the black pebble beaches. Chile is my second home where I now have family and I will return to her shores again.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

The Comfortable Life in Chile

I first met Maria (Maite) and Francisco when they were living in Sydney for the year and Maria was working at Alexandria Vets. She too is a Vet but was working as a nurse at the time. When they left Sydney I was so upset because I thought I wouuld never ever see them again. I know, this isn't Vietnam 1970. They have planes that can take me to Chile to visit them nowadays. And yesterday this happy reunión occured and I couldn't stop smiling, even though I had just been on the same bus, in the same clothes for 22 hours, I was just so happy.
They are just the most amazing and kind people and have opened their home to us. We have a comfortable bed. With a massive TV in our room. AND our own private bathroom. The last hostel we were at we had one bathroom, for the WHOLE hostel. The contrast from povo to luxury is just too great.  I asked Maria the day before which train or bus would be best to get to their place and she was like "Are you nuts! We are going to pick you up from the station". No buses, no lugging our bags around and getting lost. I think I'm in a dream that I will wake up from and I will be back in my hostel being eaten alive by bed bugs.
And on top of that we had the most awesome BBQ on their balcony that overlooks the city with the mountains in the backdrop. Francisco is a fantastic cook and even after all the amazing meat we had in Argentina this was even better tan that. And to finish this very boastful blogpost Maria's Vet friend Anna came over for dinner and brought over her dog. We had a dog! Her name is Carlotta and she is a very happy and super cute dachshund. She was very well loved by both of us but she of course loved Kevin the most and chose his lap to nap in. Oh and today we had a beautiful picnic with again, amazing food by Francisco and we got to see Flamingos and black necked swans in the park. I cannot use enough positive superlatives in this post but I think you get the picture by now. More about Chile next time.


Thursday, 4 April 2013

Being nocturnal in Buenos Aires

I love Buenos Aires. I´m just putting it out there and then I´ll tell you the reasons why. It´s often described in guidebooks as the Paris of the Southern Hemisphere. The first thing I noticed was how really European the buildings were, very old and grand. It´s a beautiful city just to stroll around. Secondly I noticed how delicious all the food looked from the patisserie windows, I just knew that the things were looking up for my sad stomach.

The other very distinctive characterisitic about BA is the incredible night life. People are out and about in the middle on the day carrying on with their normal business and then all the restaraunts shut down in the afternoon and don´t open again til about 8pm. And even then that´s considered an early dinner. I was dying of hunger the first night, wandering the streets looking for something that was open. The locals or portenos are night owls and don´t usually eat til 9 or 10pm and then they stay out til 5 or 6am. This is a completely foreign concept to Kevin and I and we were usually in bed by 11pm for our first week in BA whilst our most of our rooomates stumbled in at all hours throughout the night.

The Argentinan tango is a slow, senusous dance and is omnipresent in BA. Steak and tango. The two things you just have to experience in BA. There are a lot of tango shows on offer but they are expensive and often too touristy. Last night we went to a milonga, a half bar half dance hall where locals and a few experienced tourists would go to strut their stuff on the dance floor. We went to La Catedral and it had an awesome ambience, dark and a bit mysterious. They´re amateurs but some of them a REALLY good and there was this old couple their who were all dressed up, moving gracefully arond the dancefloor, eyes closed, just enjoying each other and the tango. I wished with all my being that Kevin and I could be that couple one day, it was so romantic.

We were determined to be true protenos for at least one night and party til the sun came up. We had some respectable thai food at 9pm, then headed to La Catedral til 2am and then danced the rest of the night away at a club. Mind you it was a Tuesday night but the club was packed and we danced the night away. So we stumbled home proudly at 5am and crashed for 3 hours til we had to wake up for our free breakfast. We were a bit messed up but then so was everyone else in the hostel. It´s nice to fit in.