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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Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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I have been to some incredible cities while on this trip but I think Rio would have to be the most incredible city I’ve seen. The way that the city is designed is just amazing, huge skyscrapers built amongst mountains right next to spectacular beaches. From above the views of the city are just jaw-dropping.

I stayed in a hostel called Che Lagarto which is one block back from Ipanema beach, one beach over from Copacobana. It was a fantastic hostel and the people who work there were absolutely lovely. They also do open bar on Thursday nights which is always great fun as I found out with my new Aussie friends Harry and Giles, my French friend Greg and Norwegian friend Hanne.

Just having a drink or three at open bar night at Che Lagarto

Ipanema beach is gorgeous and Copacabana was really cool, although when I was there it was overcast so it didn’t look as spectacular as I’m sure it would on a sunny day.

Ipanema Beach

Copacabana Beach

On my second day in Rio I did a city tour which took us to Christ the Redeemer, Santa Teresa, the Cathedral, Lapa Steps, and Sugarloaf Mountain.

The views from Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain were absolutely amazing, giving a grand view of the entire city including Copacabana, Ipanema and Centro.

At the Lapa Steps we were able to meet Selaron, the artist who created the masterpiece, and I got him to sign a postcard for me. He was a bit crazy but apparently we caught him on a good day because a lot of the time he doesn’t even come out of his house which is right next to the steps.

On another day a group of us went to Barra de Tijuca where there is a beautiful beach. Alejandro, Andrea, Greg and I had an absolutely fabulous day lazing about and enjoying the sun (and a sneaky caipirinha).

Rio is also an amazing place to go out. Twice I went out salsa dancing in Copacabana, then went to an incredible street party in Lapa with people everywhere, cheap drinks and plenty of samba, and on my last night (Halloween) had a great night out drinking in Lapa and then dancing like idiots in Ipanema.

The food in Brazil is also incredible. I tried some sushi (thanks to encouragement from Greg) and it was delicious but the Brazilians really love there meat which means I was very happy. On my last night, Greg, Hanne and I all went out for churasco, which is pretty much all you can eat meat (chicken, beef, pork, sausage) with a side of rice and chips. Accompanied by a nice glass of red wine, of course. It was AMAZING!!

The vibe in Rio is absolutely awesome! It really has a buzz that makes it the exciting place that it is. The people are all gorgeous and aren’t afraid to let you know it. The guys all get around in tiny swimmers (or budgie smugglers as we’d call them in Australia) and the women wear g-string bikinis, most of the time on the beach I didn’t know where to look!

I’m so glad I went to Rio, because it wasn’t originally on my list of places to visit. And despite many people telling me that it can be dangerous, I felt safe all the time I was there. Rio is definitely a city I’d recommend visiting, but be aware that it’s expensive compared to the rest of South America, with prices for most things on par with Sydney or London.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

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After an epic 20-hour bus ride from Bariloche I arrived in beautiful Buenos Aires. However, I wasn’t aware that it was actually a long weekend for Columbus Day which meant that all the hostels were booked out. After trying to get a bed in several hostels my taxi driver suggested a cheap hotel nearby where I could stay. It was awful! But I wasn’t going to sit in my room by myself on a Saturday night, my first in Buenos Aires, so I headed back to my first hostel of choice (Milhouse Avenue) so I could book in for the next night and hopefully meet some people. There, I ran into a friend I had met in La Paz and her travel companions so we ended up having a great night of drinking and dancing and the next day I moved into Milhouse where the party continued for the next five nights.

While in Buenos Aires I visited some of the wonderful neighbourhoods close to the city including Recoleta, San Telmo, La Boca, and Palermo. Here is a little about what each area has to offer:

Recoleta – here I did a tour of the famous cemetery where Evita is buried. The people who are buried here are placed in beautiful tombs that are elaborately decorated and look like miniature churches. We also wondered around the markets here which have stalls with jewellery, art, clothes and food.

Evita’s grave.

San Telmo – here we visited the Sunday Antiques Fair where there are so many beautiful stalls of antiques and people dancing tango in the streets. We also has lunch in a restaurant where we were able to experience a live tango show. Tango is such an amazing dance and a very important part of the Buenos Aires culture.

La Boca – this part of town is very unique as it is where a lot of the immigrants first arrived in Buenos Aires and built their houses. Paint left over from painting the boats on the nearby docks was used to paint the houses so they are extemely bright colours and give the area a vibrancy I’ve never seen before. People from Boca are also very passionate about their football team, Boca Juniors, so it was great to be able to visit the stadium there and see where the infamous Maradona once played.

Palermo – this is a gorgeous part of town where there are lots of beautiful little boutique shops and large park areas. I spent plenty of time wondering the streets but wasn’t able to explore the parks as it started raining the day I was there. My lovely friend Rachel from back home took me shopping nearby one day and we spent hours looking at a the beautiful leather products on offer. Rachel spotted some great shoes and I ended up buying a beautiful red handbag made of Argentinian leather. A very successful day capped off with a delicious cocktail, thanks Rach!

A couple of other things I enjoyed while in Buenos Aires:

La Cabrera restaurant – I was told this was the best steak restaurant in Buenos Aires and it defiantly lives up to it’s reputation. If you arrive there at 7pm and eat before 8:30 your meal is half price,which makes it extremely good value. A fantastic restaurant with great service, delicious food and beautiful wine.

Tango Show – seeing a tango show in Buenos Aires is a must do in my opinion. We went to one at Complejo Tango where you get to do a tango lesson then watch a show while enjoying a three course dinner and unlimited wine. It was such a great night, the lesson was fun, the food was amazing and the show was spectacular!

Showing off our certificates after successfully completing our tango class.

One thing to keep in mind when visiting BA is that things don’t kick off until really late. Portenos (BA locals) don’t have dinner until 10pm and generally you don’t head to clubs until about 2am. An afternoon siesta is almost a must so you can keep up.

Overall, I had a brilliant time in Buenos Aires and think that it is an amazing city! Beautiful neighborhoods, delicious food and wine and a great night life.

Mendoza, Argentina

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The trip from Santiago to Mendoza was an 8-hour bus ride over the Andes with the border crossing high up in the mountains. We’d been told that it was spectacular and worth doing during daylight hours, which is what we did and I’m very glad. The views were just amazing! Driving up through the mountains with snow covered peaks on either side of the road was unreal.

After the border crossing we descended to the other side and into the flat valleys of Mendoza where 70 % of the country’s wine is produced.

The next day we spent wandering around the town of Mendoza, hanging out in the Parque General San Martin and browsing Mercado Central to pick up some goodies for lunch among the vineyards the next day.

In the morning, Alan, our new friend Dan and I caught a local bus to Maipu where all the vineyards are located. We rented bikes from Mr Hugo’s and we were off. Throughout the day we visited around 4-5 bodegas (wineries) and a liqueria (where Alan decided to try a tobacco flavoured liquor – surprise, surprise, it was disgusting).

The wines we tried were mainly Cabinet Sauvignon and Malbec (which I’ve decided is my new favourite wine). The vineyards were all lovely and after paying a small entry price were happy to let us try a generous amount of wine (which we of course spat out like proper wine connoisseurs – NOT!!)

We had a delicious picnic lunch at one of the vineyards which consisted of cheese, prosciutto, crackers, strawberries and chocolate, and was well accompanied by a bottle of the winery’s Cabinet Sauvignon.

At the end of the day we bought a bottle of wine and went and sat among the vines to enjoy the last of the days sun before heading back to the bike hire place (a little wobbly on our bikes) where they supplied us with more wine until well into the night.

Now, I must warn anyone who thinks this sounds like a sophisticated day among the vineyards that it definitely was no stroll in the park. I think we probably ended up riding over 20 kilometers during the day, most of the roads are badly sign posted and a couple of the vineyards weren’t open when we got there. However, it was one of those truly unique experience that only South America can provide and I can honestly say that it has been one of the highlights of the trip so far.

Thanks to Alan (or Al-baby as he is to be known forthwith) and Dan for a great day and for not leaving the slow girl behind too much.

Looking a little worse for wear at the end of the day.

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

 

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