A Travellerspoint blog

Salvador

sunny 33 °C

Peering out of the taxi window to the cobblestone streets a certain uneasiness comes over you. Its just after midnight and we’re on our way from Salvador airport into the Pelorihno.

Possessing a reputation for being particularly unsafe, initial impressions of Salvador encourage your to lock your valuables in the room and venture out with little more than the cash required for the day.

The Pelorinho is Salvador's old town and the hub of Brazilian Afro culture in Salvador and Brazil. It has a magical carnival atmosphere regardless of the day or time of year and the cobblestone streets, cafes, bars, restaurants and colourful houses provide a brilliant day out.

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Armed police on almost every corner makes for a much more relaxed day or night. It's almost impossible to walk for more than 100m without seeing one or more ‘Militar’ observing the streets, though the need for such a strong presence is a clear indication that without them Salvador would be a no go zone.

There are a number of city beaches 10 minutes or so from Salvador centro which also provide a fun afternoon. After our three nights though it was time to move on to some real beach time, on the island or Morro de Sao Paulo.

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Posted by karenandlach 13:03 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

Mendoza

semi-overcast 27 °C

We have had very limited or no internet over the last week so apologies again for yet another delay!

It was off to Mendoza, the wine region of Argentina next but first a 13-hour overnight bus. We had booked ‘Cama-Suite’ the highest grade of bus on offer and it showed…a seat that reclined to flat, champagne (well bubbles at least), personal TV screen, hot dinner, wine served with dinner, whisky…certainly a better experience than the Greyhound!

On arrival to Mendoza we quickly headed to the main square for some alfresco coffee and breakfast. This was the first time that poverty had been visible to us in our 4 weeks in Argentina. A number of beggars stopped by asking for money or food and we happily handed over some cake.

The rest of the first day was spent relaxing by the pool so we were ready to get going the following day and start exploring the wineries that Mendoza is so famous for.

The preferred mode of transport for getting around the wineries in Maipu is bike. It is fair to say that there were a few apprehensions about the 20 kms of cycling we had ahead of us, particularly whether tipsy cycling is a good idea. However, bumpy roads and monstrous trucks aside, once we got going we had a great day cycling leisurely around the region. We spent the day sampling the various wines on offer, taking in some lunch in amongst the vineyards and finally ending the day with a tasting of some (awful) chocolate liqueur!

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Valle de Uca was the next area on the agenda, known for some of the more upmarket wineries in the region, this time we had a minibus to transport us. It was an early start and we were already at the first winery with a glass of white in our hands by 9.45am…oh dear. Beautiful wineries, interesting and engaging tours, a fantastic 4-course lunch and loads of wine made for an awesome day. Sadly it was Fi and Ban’s last but we definitely did it in style!

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The following day it was goodbye to Fi and Ban…a few tears shed. I will miss the drinking games girls…especially spoons!

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Lach and I spent the remainder of the day doing some much needed planning…it’s off to Brazil tomorrow!

Posted by karenandlach 06:41 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Buenos Aires

sunny 30 °C

After receiving the shopping list of do’s and don’ts (mostly don’ts) from Nestor, our apartment manager, we could have been forgiven for spending the next week indoors.

We duly ignored most of the advice Ban and Fi had to endure for an hour or so prior to our arrival and had a great time with no incident (but for the bag snatching we witnessed from a distance). A bit of common sense and the only trouble you’re likely to encounter is figuring out when people go out to drink!

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Buenos Aires feels and from our week there, is, a reasonably safe city, despite the bad press it receives from travellers and locals alike. Perhaps if you were on a budget in the wrong areas things would be different.

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BA itself has an eclectic mix of downtown city, up market suburbs like Palermo and colourful ‘authentic’ neighborhoods such as La Boca.

The biggest challenge is trying to navigate the eating and drinking times. Restaurants seem to get busy from 10pm onwards and you wont spot a single person in a bar until after midnight.

A short distance from the city lies the pampas, where the ranches and gauchos of Argentina reside. Taking a day trip to a ranch is a bit more like going to a gaucho theme park rather than an authentic ranch, however, still a brilliant day. Everything has been orchestrated and runs like a well-oiled machine, from the horse trek around the paddock to the enormous parilla with tango/cowboy dancing show and finally some gaucho games on horseback to entertain you at the day’s end.

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The whole day is made enormously fun by the unlimited alcohol on hand which we received another lecture about from our tour guide en-route. “Don’t drink too much, I’ve had to deal with people like you in the past”. “That means you three scots up the back”.

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Fortunately we had a couple of poms with us to outshine Ban, Fi and Kaz in the over-drinking stakes.

A quick trip to Uruguay followed for a visit to Colonia, the highlight being touring the town in a golf buggy that barely reached above 20kph and some old town charm.

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Our final few days in BA consisted of a day in Palermo Soho (think designer fashion meets bohemian cafes) and a trip to the famous (or infamous) La Boca. There is a special area for tourists continuing the theme park trend. Lots of tango, gauchos and parillas to satisfy any Argentinian craving! More than worth a few hours but ignore the health warnings, you won’t get mugged here either.

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Posted by karenandlach 15:29 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Montevideo

sunny 29 °C

Montevideo is a relatively small city. The perfect size for exploring on foot and with a plentiful supply of cafes, bars and restaurants it makes for an enjoyable place to spend a couple of days. The city has a (mostly) friendly feel, there are a scattering of nice squares to stroll through, shopping streets to wander down and, one of the highlights, a large indoor market packed full with parillas. Pull up a stool at one of the many options in Mercado del Puerto and dine in front of the large wood fires. The piles of meat the locals can devour need to be seen to be believed…even Lach couldn’t keep up here!

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There is also no shortage of Uruguayans drinking mate, the national drink in Argentina and Uruguay. After a few sips the bitter taste becomes quite off putting, it must have to be acquired from birth!

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For the most part Montevideo felt like a safe city. However, there were a couple of instances where we inadvertently walked into a part of town that would probably be best avoided…there are certainly a few dodgy characters around! One night we were also advised by locals to walk ‘rapido’ as leaving the restaurant…not the most comforting advice to hear as you head home after a night out.

On our final day we headed out of the city to Bouza, a nearby winery, recommended to us by the owner of a local wine bar. A brilliant day spent touring the winery and vineyards, visiting the classic car showroom and finally enjoying the wines on offer…all in the 30C sunshine of course!

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We are off to meet Fiona and Ban in BA next…can’t wait!!

Posted by karenandlach 05:35 Archived in Uruguay Comments (0)

Punta del Este

rain 26 °C

Sorry for the long delay….we have been with Ban and Fi for the last 12 days and have had a packed itinerary. We will get back on track with the blogging now though!

Punta Del Este…the St Tropez of South America. It is all about the through the night partying and beautiful people – apparently.

As my 30th birthday present Lach had given me a fund to upgrade somewhere along the trip…I decided to redeem this in Punta del Este and we upgraded to Hotel L’Auberge. The hotel was lovely, set in beautiful manicured gardens with a pool, poolside bar and BBQ. Unfortunately, other than on the afternoon we arrived, it rained non-stop so we didn’t really get the full benefit of the lovely hotel facilities. We did enjoy the hotel’s famous waffles for afternoon tea (every day)…amazing! If you are ever in Punta del Este don’t miss these.

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Given the weather conditions our time in Punta del Este was spent mainly relaxing and staying out of the rain. We ventured in to the centre of town a couple of times but the rain and wind made it difficult to really appreciate Punta del Este at it’s best. We did make it see the main sight though…a hand in the sand…bizarre but popular!

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The nightlife was a disappointment. I am not sure if it was just us but we just couldn’t find the party people. We were here towards the end of their high season and I was expecting that it would still be pretty crowded but the nights we did head out it all seemed rather sedate. Everything starts later in Punta del Este…dinner at 11pm, drinks at 1am and club at 3am but even when we adjusted to these (odd) timings the bars just seemed empty.

Next stop….Montevideo!

Posted by karenandlach 11:20 Archived in Uruguay Comments (0)

Bariloche and San Martin de los Andes

semi-overcast 18 °C

As the raft does a 180 degree capsize backwards Kaz can no longer hide the fear.

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Sitting at Extremo Sur rafting we’re watching the highlights package for the grade III/IV rapids that I’m trying to convince Kaz to do.

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Bariloche, in the lakes district of Argentina, is about two things, outdoor activities and chocolate. Its skiing in the winter and trekking in the summer… and of course white water rafting. The streets are lined with chocolate shops. Its easier to find a chocolate shop than a coffee shop.

After arriving it only takes half an hour before we find ourselves being drawn in, though after a few days you start to realize they are all selling essentially the same types of chocolate, presented identically.

So after satisfying the chocolate impulse I’ve managed to drag Kaz to the rafting company. She’s seen the DVD (which is clearly exaggerated for the sales effect) and is now terrified.

After a few hours of debate the rafting is booked and it’s off to the local parilla for more meat, we’re not sure the Argentinians cook anything else. Albierto is famous for enormous portions and they delivered on their reputation in spades. Half a kilo of perfectly cooked filet, a mountain of fries and some salad is a meal for one according to the menu. We shared. All washed down with a bottle of Malbec and a bill totaling £22. You wont find better quality, cheaper beef anywhere in the world.

Six hours later I woke up in the dead of night with what I can only assume was mad cow disease and rafting was starting to look unlikely to happen. Kaz’s poor attempts at covering up her excitement for missing rafting with sympathy didn’t go unnoticed.

With the aid of multiple pain killers the mad cow disease was forced to the background and we made it to the rapids. Arriving at the ranch with a feverish sweat the icy cold of the river came as rather refreshing. Predictably the rapids did not live up to the highlights package. We mostly meandered down the river hitting grade iv rapids every 10 minutes or so, providing the excitement and chill of icy water to keep us awake.

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We finished the trip with yet another parilla and more meat. Cue mad cow disease for the bus ride home. The remainder of our time in Bariloche was rather quiet as I convalesced in our apartment, until we made it out for our final dinner, after which Kaz received a severe bout food poisoning keeping me awake all night with her vomiting.

Having shaken the ill affects of mad cow disease and food poisoning we headed to San Martin for a night, primarily to take in the seven lakes drive on route between San Martin and Bariloche. Stunning scenery the likes of which seem to adorn most of Patagonia was again on show. Well worth the effort though the Argentine drivers are a little scary.

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We finished the next day back in Bariloche, heading for the airport, next stop Uruguay.

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Posted by karenandlach 13:21 Archived in Argentina Comments (2)

Peninsula Valdes and Punta Tombo

overcast 20 °C

The sight of seeing an enormous Orca (Killer Whale) cruising onto the sand to pluck a sea lion from the shore, toss it into the air before snatching it in its teeth and devouring is truly amazing… unfortunately we didn’t see this.

Detour. Two days out to visit Peninsula Valdes & Punta Tombo. Result. Disappointing.

After 27hrs of bus time arriving in Puerto Madryn is a relief. The Argentine buses get a lot of hype, but in reality it’s a pretty mixed bag… and there is no escaping it, you’re on a bus.

The gateway to Peninsula Valdes, Puerto Madryn, doesn’t have a lot to offer. Tourists pack in for the wildlife scenery on the peninsula. Unfortunately without a car this means paying for an overpriced, under-delivering tour. Completely unnecessary, the guides can’t really tell you anything you can’t see for yourself “it’s a sea lion”.

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Peninsula Valdes, outside of whale season, is not worth the effort. There are two big draw cards here, Orca’s (Killer Whales), which are so rarely sighted as to essentially not exist and the Southern Right Whales. They departed a few months back, so we didn’t catch a glimpse of them either. Its down to sea lions and elephant seals… from a very great distance away.

Hoping to get something from the sidetrack another day trip takes us to Punta Tombo to see penguins, thousands of them. Although worth seeing having already made the effort of getting to Puerto Madryn, its like going to a free range chicken farm to see hundreds of thousands of birds doing very little and smelling like, well, what you would expect from a chicken farm.

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The highlight of our two days ended up being the bbq put on by the hostel, Hi Patagonia, washed down with a bottle of red.

Posted by karenandlach 14:04 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

El Chalten

semi-overcast 15 °C

Arriving into El Chalten it was a quick change into hiking boots and off on the first of our treks in the area. The forecast for the following day was rain so we decided to take advantage of the sunny day despite it being a little later than we would have liked (12.30pm) to start a 22km, 6-hour trek.

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The trek started with a gentle climb and I was already having flashbacks of Torres del Paine! This trek was easy in comparison though. At the first lookout point we were disappointed that we were unable to view (the notoriously cloud covered) Cerro Torre. We continued through the valley and reached our destination, Laguna Torre. An azure lake with glacier beyond. A lovely little spot but unfortunately the rain had set in and put a stop to our lunch plans. After a few photos we went to find some shelter to eat our ham and cheese sandwiches before heading back.

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We rewarded ourselves that evening with some comfort food and a bottle of Malbec...a lovely Valentine's meal out!

El Chalten itself is an enchanting place. The log cabin type structures all over town make you feel as though you have just entered a cute Swiss resort but look a little closer and you can see that most are just fake timber facades. After all, El Chalten was just 'slapped together in 1985 to beat Chile to the land claim'. (LP quote).

On our second day we only did a short trek and enjoyed the cozy coffee shops around town.

The following morning we set out on the next of the big treks, this time to Lago de los Tres, nestled at the foot of Mount Fitzroy. It was a great day with clear, blue skies and the scenery along the way was stunning.

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This trek is billed as tougher than Lago Torre and although the first 2.5 hours lulls you into a false sense of security you then reach this sign:

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Oh dear! I have some trekking boots but I fail the other 2 criteria. The next hour and 15mins is tough... steep inclines and rocky, unstable ground. I managed to keep my backpack the whole time though, much to Lach's relief.

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We finally make it to the top but the ridiculously high winds mar the achievement somewhat. The scene in front of us is stunning but I can barely stand in one spot, so after a few photos (which Lach takes as I hide behind a rock for shelter) we start our descent.

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The descent is no easier than the ascent...the steep, unstable ground coupled with the wind make for slow progress on my part!

We arrive back to El Chalten with sore feet and legs but it feels good...we have trekked over 80km since arriving in Patagonia so we treat ourselves once again..it's a glass of red and a charcuterie board tonight!

The 27-hour bus to Puerto Madryn is next...should be fun!

Posted by karenandlach 04:08 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

El Calafate & Perito Moreno Glacier

sunny 5 °C

The day after the trek we had an early morning pick up to begin the 8-hour journey to El Calafate, our next Patagonian stop. I woke to discover sore muscles I didn’t even know I had and was a little concerned that after 8 hours on a bus I may not be able to get up again!

El Calafate is across the border in Argentina so we all had to pile out of the bus to get our passports stamped… once as we were leaving Chile and again on arrival into Argentina. Bizarrely these two stops are about a 15-minute drive apart!

El Calafate’s main draw, or perhaps only draw, is its proximity to Glacier Perito Moreno, one of Argentina’s biggest sights. Although El Calafate is just a purpose built tourist town catering to the hoardes of people that pass through to see the glacier, I think it does the tourist town thing very well. All centred around a buzzing main street with cute souvenir shops, cozy coffee and chocolate shops, alpine-style pubs and too many restaurants to choose from.

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The day after we arrived we headed for the big attraction…Glacier Perito Moreno. The glacier is one of the most accessible in the world and is also one of very few advancing glaciers in the world. It grows by up to 2m per day, causing enormous ice sheets to fall from it’s face numerous times per day, quite a sight! Fortunately the part of the glacier that we were trekking on was a bit more stable so on with the ice crampons and off we went!

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The ice trek lasted about 2 hours with a number of stops to allow the guide to explain some of the characteristics of the glacier. It was a brilliant experience to walk on the glacier…Lach found it a bit slow and I guess it was but I actually appreciated the gentle trek! We finished the trek with a whisky on the rocks (glacial ice).

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The day trip also included a boat trip and a visit to the extensive viewing platforms where you can gaze at the imposing glacier a little more.

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After a freezing cold day on the ice we arrived back ready to try out one of the many Parillas in town…typically they have 2 or 3 whole lamb carcasses being flamed over open coals in the window.

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We spent our last day in El Calafate doing some much-needed admin, booking flights, buses (27-hour buses!) and accommodation for the next part of our trip.

Next stop… trekking the Fitzroy range in El Chalten!

Posted by karenandlach 13:01 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Torres Del Paine

all seasons in one day

Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. A five hour journey from Punta Arenas, three by bus reaches Puerto Natales, two hours more by van to Lago Grey, across corrugated dirt tracks.

The rough ride melts away as soon as you enter the park. The scenery beyond is spectacular; the remoteness immediately evident and towering snow capped mountains bear down on all sides.

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Arriving to views better than we’ve seen anywhere at Lago Grey Hotel lobby we knew we were in for something special. Being greeted with 40kph winds was quietly discomforting! Apparently the weather here is ‘unpredictable’, but our guide for the next day assures us we’ll be fine to head for the towers. A short afternoon trek to the Lago Grey sand bank and icebergs didn’t ease any tensions as spray from the lake whipped our faces.

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Beach and Icebergs near our hotel
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View from Hotel

Day1, trek day. 7.30am departure. Winds reached 50kph over night. We arrive to meet our guide:

Pablo: “I’ve never seen winds so strong, it might not be safe, but if you’d still like to go we can.”

Kaz: “that’s fine, lets just go”.

Pablo: (with a look of genuine concern that we might actually go) “We can, but its quite rocky and unstable at the top, I wouldn’t want anything to happen”.

Kaz: “ok, I’m happy to go today”

Pablo: “Our driver who’s worked here 30 years told me we probably shouldn’t go unless you are very experienced”.

Realising Kaz had come down with a case of temporary insanity I suggested we postpone.

Half an hour later we’re on the boat to see a glacier instead. Rather than get swept off a mountain we swap it for sinking in a glacial lake.

After watching many of the passengers vomit their way through an hour, we reach the glacier. Shimmering deep blue in colour, an amazing sight, all washed down with a pisco sour (the national cocktail) at 10.30am!

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Rainbow over Glacier Grey
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Day 2, trek day. We’ve been joined by a couple from Holland, one of whom is ex-navy marine, little nervous about expectations! Wind speed, 2kph, conditions are perfect. Torres round trip, 18km, 7-8hrs. Truly the highlight of the park. Stunning scenery, from mountain top views across the valley, forest rapids as you trek to the final climb, and finally, a 1hr scramble across rocky terrain. The sight upon reaching the top is stunning.

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Crossing the final rise the scene that unfolds beneath, in front and above stops you in your tracks. The boulders drop away to a lagoon below while the three towers reach into the clouds above, mountains on both sides wrap the scene into one. No photograph can do it justice. The perfect reward.

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The trek itself was tough, our guide certainly maintained the pace. Up and down in 7hrs. After the previous two days of high winds and cold temperatures the 20+ degrees caught us by surprise, it was hot! Despite her earlier enthusiasm for 50kph winds, Kaz was more than relieved we did it on a calm, sunny day, though on the initial ascent she almost collapsed, at which point I gained an additional backpack to carry… for the remaining 3hrs up.

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Finally sharing a beer at the bottom with our new companions was a great finish to a brilliant day.

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Departing the park on our final morning we were in for one final treat. The sun rising over the peaks. Even our driver stopped to take a photo… few places we’ve seen compare to the natural beauty found here.

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Posted by karenandlach 15:03 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

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