South America – Wrap Report

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So back in the PR world whenever I finished a campaign or project for a client I’d have to put together a report summarising our activities and the outcomes, so I thought it only fitting that I do something similar for my South American adventure. So here it goes:

In three months I travelled through five countries, stayed in 29 different towns/cities, slept in 12 hotels, 17 hostels, one jungle lodge, one mountain lodge, one salt hotel, a desert shack, a beach shack, camped for three nights and took seven overnight buses.

So, what were the highlights I hear you ask? Well, I’ve narrowed it down to my five favourite experiences:

1. Inca Trail/Machu Picchu, Peru – Completing this four day trek and finally arriving at the wondrous place that is Machu Pacchu has to be the absolute highlight of my trip. The trek was really hard but, as I’ve said before, I enjoyed every minute of it and walking into the lost city filled me with such happiness at the thought of fulfilling a life long dream.


2. Horse riding in the Cochamo Valley, Chile – anyone who knows me knows that I love horses and that I love riding, so being able to go trail riding in the Chilean mountains was something I really wanted to do while I was travelling. This 2-day ride was like nothing I’ve ever done before. The trail was incredible; forest, rivers, and mountains and the horses were amazing; sturdy, strong and courageous. I was absolutely blown away by the spectacular scenery and once again loved every minute of the experience.


3. The World’s Most Dangerous Road, Bolivia – My mum actually forbid me from doing this before I left on my trip but I knew that if I didn’t do it I’d really regret it. The 64 km downhill bike ride on what is considered the most dangerous road in the world was absolutely exhilarating. It was so much fun that I had a smile on my face for the whole ride and the scenery was spectacular; waterfalls, forest and of course the huge cliffs that drop away from the side of the road.


4. Bike riding in the vineyards of Mendoza, Argentina – I’m not much of a bike rider so it’s kind of funny to see that two bike rides made it to my top five list, but this one also included one of my favorite things in the world; wine. This was just one of those days where you have so much fun that the next day you wake up and think, ‘wow, that was perfect!’ Combine delicious wine, riding a bike on a glorious day through gorgeous vineyards with the spectacular Andes in the background, and fabulous company and you have one stellar day.


5. Rio de Janeiro, – Rounding out the top 5 is the coolest city I’ve ever been to. I loved everything about Rio; the amazing sights such as Christ the Redeeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain, the stunning beaches, the crazy nightlife and most of all just the fantastic vibe the city has. I’m so glad Rio was the last place I visited because it was the perfect ending to the most amazing trip.

So there you go, five places/experiences that absolutely blew me away. It’s good to see that there is one for each country because I loved all the countries I visited, they were all so different and I was lucky enough to have incredible, unique experiences every place I went.

Of course, one of things that really made this trip what it was is all the amazing people I met along the way. I was lucky to have a group of fantastic people in my tour group in Peru and then once I was by myself I was able to meet some great people to hang out, party and travel with. Thanks to all those people who I met, you made this trip the greatest thing I’ve done in my life!

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Horse Riding in the Cochamo Valley

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This continent just continues to amaze me! I thought I’d seen some of the most spectacular places in the world, but yet again South America has shown me that it is a land made of jaw- dropping scenery that you could never get sick of.

The Cochamo Valley in northern Patagonia was one of those places that stopped me in my tracks and had me shaking my head in disbelief at just how beautiful this part of the world is.

After a 2-hour bus ride from Puerto Varas we arrived in the town of Cochamo where the riverside lodge of Campo Adventura is located. It was here that we would begin our 5-hour ride into the mountains. After being kitted out in wet weather gear, we met our guide Kurt, who owns Campo Adventura, and our Chilean ponies.

Then our group of seven horses and riders was off. The ride started out nice and easy on the flat, following the river, but soon we started to head into the thick of the forest and up into the mountains. I’ve been trail-riding before but this was something entirely different. The track wound through the most beautiful green forest, with the aqua-marine waters of the river visible through the trees and over a number of smaller creeks running down from the hills.

I know it sounds lovely but it was a tough trail. The path is over a hundred years old and in some parts has been cut in so deep that the ground rises above the horse on either side and is so narrow your knees often scrape against the rocky walls. And the mud! I’ve never seen mud so deep or so thick! But the horses took it in their stride and traipsed through even though at times it was up past their knees.

The horses were incredible! They could take a hair-pin turn while stepping down two feet from one slippery rock to another even slipperier rock. In places they needed to walk across mossy wooden poles that had been put along the track because the mud was too thick. They crossed freezing cold, fast-running rivers that came up to their bellies. And they did it without any fuss, like absolute troopers. Incredible I tell you! I have always loved horse but these ponies gave me a new found respect for just how intelligent these creatures can be.

So after 5 hours of absolutely grueling, but incredible trail riding we arrived in La Junta Valley where the Campo Adventura mountainside lodge is located. As we rode out of the forest and into the open fields if the valley I was amazed by the astounding beauty of the area. On every side the valley is surrounded by enormous snow-capped mountains made of granite that are so dark in colour that they have a metallic shine – it was like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

The lodge was a gorgeous little wooden building with a warm kitchen and cosy beds. The trail we took is the only way to get there so everything has either been brought up on horseback (or by mule) or on foot (including the huge slow combustion oven) and it also means there is no electricity. What an incredible place to live. We were well looked after by the locals Tatiana and Horacio who cooked us a delicious dinner of salted pork and vegetables.

In the evening and also the next morning Kurt took us for a walk around the property where we saw beautiful waterfalls, got to take a ride on a cable car across a raging river and at one point had to make a river crossing in bare feet through water which two hours ago was snow on the mountain tops (brrrr).

I couldn’t believe that one place could be so beautiful – lush green rainforests, spectacular waterfalls and awe-inspiring mountains – what more could you ask for!

Riding back down was once again an amazing experience and I still couldn’t believe the things these horses could do.

Thanks so much to Kurt, Cochelo, our local guide, whose horsemanship was incredible to see, Tatiana and Horacio for allowing me to have this once-in-a-lifetime experience and see a place so beautiful I know I will never forget it.

Santiago – Coffee With Legs

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Here’s a bit of a funny story for you. Don’t have many pics to go with it but thought it was a good yarn.

Our walking tour guide told us that Chilean coffee is the worst in the world, which means that no one would buy coffee from a coffee shop.

But then, a very smart guy who wanted to open a coffee shop came up with the idea of opening a store where you can buy a coffee from a waitress in a very skimpy, tight dress who flirts with you while you wait for your order. These shops don’t have chairs because otherwise people would hang around all day sipping in their coffee.

As you can imagine the popularity of coffee increased exponentially and stores opened all over the city. The concept is called ‘coffee with legs’.

But, then another very smart guy decided to take it one step further, where the waitresses wear even less (bikinis and g-strings). The store fronts are generally blacked out but we were able to take a peek inside one and it was unbelievable! Guys standing around in what looks like a strip club complete with disco lights and hip hop music while bikini clad women bring them coffee.

The outside of one of the coffee shops.

Our guide also told us that every now and then the stores have what is called a ‘hot minute’ where the doors to the shop get locked and for one minute the waitresses take off all their clothes and dance on the tables. After the minute is over the clothes come back on and the doors are unlocked.

Apparently the hot minute is a bit of a rareity though, our guide said he’s been drinking coffee from these places for 10 years and he’s only ever seen one hot minute.

What a way to sell coffee huh!?

Valparaiso

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Valparaiso is a two bus ride from Santiago on the coast. It is a port town where the waters edge is lined with colourful cargo boxes and the steep hills leading down to the water are covered in colourful houses. The hills are so steep that a number of elevators were built to make access to the neighbourhoods higher up easier. These elevators are similar to the funicular in Santiago but were built in the late 1800s, which made us a little nervous about them falling off their tracks and us plummeting to our deaths. However, we made it up and were able to get a great view of the city and the port.

Valparaiso is a very bohemian town with artwork everywhere you look, including murals and graffiti art on almost every street. We visited the house of famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda where we could see the eclectic mix of collections he accumulated over the years. I even bought some of his poetry (translated into English), it’s really good, and gives you a sense of the man he really was.

We also went on a boat ride where we could look back at the city spilling down the hillsides. We saw some sea lions playing amongst the ships in the harbour too.

I really loved Valparaiso, it had a real energy about it and felt like the real South America – colorful and artistic but with a rough underside.

We stayed at Casa Valparaiso which I’d recommend – very relaxed and a good kitchen.

Santiago

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Alan and I arrived in Santiago on the 10th of September just in time for the 11th of September which is a very important day in Chilean history because in 1973 a military coup began on this day. It resulted in many of the main government buildings being bombed including the Presidential Palace. The president at the time (Allende) shot himself rather than be captured. The next 17 years involved about 3,000 people disappearing because they had socialist views or were sympathetic to the fallen government. On the 11th we visited the Human Rights Museum to learn more about what happened on that day and afterwards. It was really sad to hear some of the stories from people who were there on the day but also really interesting to see how it has shaped Chilean culture – apparently the population is still divided on the matter, so the 11th was a bit of a crazy day as half the people celebrate the downfall of the government while the rest mourn the loss of life that occurred during the Pinochet dictatorship – which meant that there were quite a lot of clashes in the street.

Rebuilt Presidential Palace

Statue of Allende

September is also the month that Chile celebrates their independence day. The actual day of independence is the 18th however for the whole month leading up to it there are Chilean flags everywhere, and I mean everywhere! They practically cover the majority of the buildings in the city. On the 18th every house has to have a flag outside, and if they don’t, they get fined! And, if they don’t hang the flag correctly, with the star on the left (because that’s where the heart is) then they also get a fine! Crazy huh?!

While we were in Santiago we also went to a futbol match between the University of Santiago and the Montevideo (Uraguay) National team. My friends Jenna and Angela from back home were in Santiago so they came along too. The game was nuts! The crowd stand on their seats and chant for the entire game. There were flares going off, people chucking toilet paper and the biggest drums I’ve ever seen being beaten by the biggest Chileans I’ve ever seen. The atmosphere was amazing! At the start, and when Chile scored a goal, the biggest flag I’ve ever seen would be passed down over the heads of the people in our stand so it covered the entire section. And Santiago won, so the crowd was ecstatic, every one left the ground chanting and singing at the top if their lungs.

And then the real fun started – trying to get a bus along with the thousands of other fans. People would stand in the middle of the road and flag down buses, that would generally just keep driving straight through the crowd because they were already full. At one stage a riot vehicle came past and started beeping at everyone to get off the road because they were holding up traffic, they had the water cannon on top whizzing around looking for someone not obeying but everyone just went piss bolting behind the bus stand and then started yelling and gesturing at the truck. It was a very scary looking vehicle, all black with protective metal wiring around the windows and the menacing barrel of the water gun on top. It had dints all over so it looked like it had copped a few bullets in it’s time or something else being launched at it. I wasn´t game enough to get a photo unfortunately.

Eventually we managed to get on a bus with what seemed like 200 other people, we were crammed in like sandines and people were hanging out the doors. Then they all started singing and clapping, at one stage the bus was jumping up and down with the passengers! What an experience!

A few other things we got up to in Santiago that were really good were:
– did a free walking tour of the city ( it was really informative and I learned a lot about the city and the history of Chile in general).
– took the funicular up the 870m San Cristobal hill which gives amazing views of the city and the mountains behind.
– visited the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino which has artifacts from all the pre-Columbian civilisations from 4,500 years ago until the Incas. Very interesting and it had signs in English which is rare.
– walked around Santa Lucia hill which is a little refuge in the middle of the city with nice gardens and great views.
– had a seafood dinner at Mercado Central. Straight from the ports of Valparaiso, the seafood is amazing – I was brave and had what was basically a seafood stew, I barely had a clue what I was eating but it tasted pretty good.
– tried the local student cuisine called chorillana (spelling?) in the hip neighbourhood of Bellavista which is made of beef chunks, onion and served on chips. Was pretty tasty but as you can imagine it was pretty greasy too!
– tried the local beverage called a Terramoto (which means earthquake) at the roughest bar I’ve ever been in. It’s a drink made of wine, Pisco and pineapple ice-cream (no wonder it’s rough!). Towards the end of the night there was a bar fight between some locals that turned into an all in brawl, even the girls got involved, one threw a chair at someone else. It was intense! After three earthquakes we were all walking like there was an earthquake taking place!
– went to what is apparently the hottest bar in Chile called Bar Constitucion where all the celebs hang out. Didn’t manage to meet any of them but had a good night nonetheless.

– went to a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert. It was awesome!

– hung out in the Parque Forestal in the afternoon pretty much everyday, enjoying the sun and making friends with the locals (well  local dogs anyway).

– drank a LOT of red wine. At $4 for a 1.5 litre bottle, how can you say no!

The ride on the funicular

The view from San Cristobal

The mountains overlooking the city (it was a bit smoggy)

Santa Lucia

Enjoying the view from Santa Lucia

Seafood dinner at Mercado Central

Chorillana

Support Act for the RHCP

Alan…a true fan

Our spot in the park

One of our new friends

 

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

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After leaving the salt flats tour group I jumped on a bus which took me to the border of Bolivia and Chile. In the line for immigration I met an English guy called Alan who seemed to be the only English speaking person in the area (although he does speak Spanish rather well also) which was a relief because my Spanish is still pretty ordinary. After immigration and customs it was only a few minutes on the bus before we arrived in San Pedro de Atacama.

Alan and I decided to seek out a hostel that had been recommended to me by my friend Ed in La Paz, it was a bit out of the way and therefore cheaper. For once I followed his directions well and we came a across hostel Cabur.

It is a quiet place with a nice shady courtyard, a hammock and a fireplace in the evenings. After three days in the desert I enjoyed a nice hot shower and then we headed back into town to check out the main attractions – and of course we found the pub where a futbol match between Chile and Spain was about to commence.

San Pedro is a peaceful town that caters solely for tourists. It is only small and is made up of restaurants, tour agencies and Internet cafes.

There are an abundance of tours you can do, mainly involving lagunas and geysers, however we felt we’d seen enough of those on our Salar tour so we opted for sand boarding in the Death Valley instead.

I was pretty worried I was going to hurt myself (especially after Will stacked it in Huacachina) but it was really fun and when I did stack it I didn’t hurt myself – just got absolutely covered in sand! Only bad thing was having to trek back up the hill to come down again.


Alan showing off his mad skills.

After the sand boarding we went to a lookout point so we could watch the sunset over the Atacama desert. The landscapes there are just amazing, they look like something from Mars, red dirt that has formed into rugged hills and gullies and then surrounded by the ever present Andes on one side and another mountain range on the other.

I also went stargazing at the observatory of a French astronomer where I learnt about all he different zodiac constellations and the makeup of our galaxy. I absolutely froze but it was really interesting.

We ended up staying four days and three nights in San Pedro and didn’t really do all that much, which was kinda nice. Alan had to srt out flights and I wanted to get my blog up to date but apart from that we just cooked for ourselves and hung around in the hammock in the hostel. It was lovely!

(Sorry about the lack of photos of San Pedro, I was a little bit lazy in this town as you can probably tell.)

The Journey

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I have now arrived in Lima, Peru after a 3 hour flight a 13 hour flight and then another 4 hour flight (Auckland, Santiago and Lima) – and trust me, I have never been so desperate for a shower in my life! The flights were all fine, no dramas at all, but it´s just so long – my whole body is aching. This was the first time I´d flown by myself, without someones hand to hold onto when you take off and land. Apparently I wasn´t the only one who was a bit nervous though, this fella walked up and down the terminal in Auckland praying before the flight, then he was on the flight to Lima too, so I had God on my side I suppose.

Even though I´ve barely seen anything of the country, apart from what I could see from the window of the plane and the bus to the hotel, I´m already amazed by how different eveything looks. The landscapes are completely different. It´s quite barren and very rocky and the mountains outside of Santiago were just huge – like nothing I´ve seen before.

Tonight I´m stayling at the Hotel Britania in Miraflores, a suburb of Lima. Tomorrow I´m going to do a bit of exploring around Lima before meeting up with the tour group tomorrow evening, and then the fun begins!

Hasta luega!

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