The Journey South

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From Mendoza, I took the bus back to Santiago where I was to join a tour group for a 5-day journey south (Pachamama by Bus Tours).

The bus picked me up early in the morning and we headed off. On the first day we visited the small town of Pomaire (not much there really) and Rapel Dam before stopping in Pichelemu, a small beach town that is famous for its great surf. I went for a bit of a wander around town and then the bus driver took us to nearby Punta de Lobos where we could watch the sun set. I’ve never really seen the sun set over the ocean before and it was incredible how quickly it disappeared below the horizon.

The next day we headed for Pucon. Along the way we stopped in the town of Santa Cruz where we visited the Museo de Colchagua. The museum is owned by a local man called Carlos Cardoen who made his fortunes in arms dealing and was at one stage one of the most wanted men by the US government. Here, though, he is a hero because he has funneled much of his fortune into the town, building facilities and creating jobs.

The museum was probably the best I have been to in South America. It includes a huge collection of prehistoric fossils and dinosaur bones, pre-Columbian artifacts, gold Conquistador work and much more.

The township of Pucon is similar to that of a European ski village. The town is built on the side of a beautiful lake with the peak of Villarrica volcano in the background. Here you can do any number of outdoor adventure activities, such as climbing the volcano, trekking, mountain biking, rafting, canoeing, horse riding etc. Unfortunately it rained the whole day we were there so we weren’t able to do any of these things. It sucked! In the afternoon it cleared up momentarily so we headed out for a wonder around town and down to the lake. In the evening we went to some nearby thermal pools, which was great – lounging around in the hot waters with the forest around us and a raging river right next to us. It was beautiful.

The next day we left Pucon and of course the sun was shining – a perfect day to do all those awesome activities I couldn’t do the day before. Not happy!

We headed for Valdivia where we stopped at the river to view the sea lions. Apparently an earthquake near the city caused a tsunami which washed a large population of sea lions into the river and they’ve stayed there ever since. It was quite bazaar to see these huge creatures sitting up on the pier in the middle of town.

The next day we headed to Puerto Montt, a small salmon-fishing town. We had an enormous seafood lunch and checked out the handicraft markets where I bought myself a flashy red poncho. Very stylish!

Then it was onto Puerto Varas where we were spending the night. The main thing I wanted to do here was to book onto a horse riding trip in the local area, which I managed to do, so stay tuned for more on that in the next blog.

Hasta luego.

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Ballestas Islands, Pisco Tasting and Sandboarding

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From Lima we jumped on a bus and headed south for about five hours to Pisco (the drink is named after the town because it is made nearby) and then another bus to Paracas (a quiet fishing town).

Along the way I was astonished by the landscapes, huge mountains of rock right next to the ocean and then vast stretches of sand.

Many of these coastal towns in this area were badly damaged during the 2007 earthquake and still appear to be recovering.

In the morning we went on a boat tour of the Islas Ballestas. The islands are nicknamed ‘the poor mans Galapagos’ but were amazing nonetheless. On the way out we saw a giant candelabra which has been etched into the sands above the rocky coastline and then about a bazillion birds including penguins. But my favorite was definitely the sea lions.

It was pretty freezing on the boat but once we got back to land the sun came out. All the English guys on the tour are hoping to get some nice tans so they were pretty happy.

After a short bus trip we arrived at a Pisco vineyard where we were shown how they make the drink and then were able to taste. Pisco is 46% alcohol which is stronger than Tequila so after sampling several different varieties we were all pretty happy and ended up buying quite a few bottles to take with us.

The next stop was an oasis in the middle of the desert called Huacachina. It is surrounded by mountainous sand dunes and has a beautiful lagoon and palm trees in the middle making it an absolutely spectacular sight.

We were able to go for a sand buggy ride in the dunes near the oasis which was exhilarating. It was like being on a rollercoaster because as you came up the dune all you could see was the horizon and you had no idea how steep they were on the other side. We were all screaming but none were louder than Rod, our group leader. After cruising around for a while we got out to take a few photos of the valley and the surrounding mountains which were absolutely spectacular, it took my breath away.

And then the fun really began. We pulled up on top of a huge sand dune and out came the boards. We were told to lay down on the board with your elbows tucked in and legs apart and the buggy driver would give you a push and off you went flying down the dune. It was pretty scary as the dune was very tall and quite steep. I let out a scream but copped a mouthful of sand so I learnt quickly to keep my mouth shut.

Once the whole group had come down the buggy driver would drive around and pick us up so we didn’t have to walk back up the dunes. Thank god!

A couple of the boys were adventurous and attempted to stand up on the boards, but it didn’t end well when one of them stacked it and took a tumble, ending up with a concussion.

Will was not badly hurt and had to get over it pretty quickly because we had planned to celebrate his birthday that night, as the following night, his actual birthday, we were taking an overnight bus.

And celebrate we did! We finished off most of the bottles of Pisco we bought that day and everyone was having a fantastic time (although soon everyone was dreading when it was their turn to take a shot of the Pisco!)

Rod was enjoying himself very much, telling us crazy stories about his travels, often sharing a little more information than we were looking for – earning him the nickname of Notorious R.O.D. and also earning him a quick dip in the hotel pool, courtesy of the group carrying him, kicking and screaming, and dropping him in to cool off. But the stress of the night was a little too much for Notorious R.O.D and he decided to pay us back by projectile vomiting all over one of the group members. It was off to bed for Rod after that!

It had been a day and a night to remember! As I went to bed I was just a little worried about how the flight over the Nazca lines would go tomorrow…

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