A Travellerspoint blog

Punta Arenas

semi-overcast 7 °C

Gore-tex, conger eel and cyclonic winds. Punta Arenas is the gateway town to Torres del Paine. Stepping off the plane the ‘adventurer’ in you seems to be drawn out (still trying to drag it out of Mrs Murray). As we await our bags the mountaineering pretenders who are descending on this place to tell stories of their heroics are busily donning the boots, thermals and waterproofs.

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I can’t help but laugh at the sight… its still above 10c outside, we are still in the arrivals hall and there is absolutely no need for any of this kit to go on. So many dreamers.

Punta Arenas offers up little more than some cozy drinking holes, restaurants and of course many places to buy that last minute beanie or thermal sock. I choose to load up on conger eel soup (local delicacy), a few glasses of carminere (local red) and a delightful little piece I picked up at the town square market (see photos) while Kaz went for a more conventional beanie with pom pom atop.

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A day or so in Punta Arenas gives just enough time for those final tune ups before attempting the towers. Lets hope there are no false starts…

With final prep over, its time to get on with what we’re all here for, Torres del Paine.

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Posted by karenandlach 15:11 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Valparaiso

semi-overcast 27 °C

Despite buses to Valparaiso leaving every 15 minutes from Santiago we arrive at the bus station to be told that there is a 3 hour wait until the next available bus…it seems every Santiaguino is heading there for the weekend!

We finally board the bus and it is practically empty…how odd! The bus stops along the way and a guy jumps onboard to hand out free ice lollies…I hope this is going to happen on all the buses here!

Valparaiso is a very quaint little town consisting of a fairly large port, servicing large cruise ships and cargo ships, ‘El Plan’, the flat commercial area and 42 ‘cerros’, steep hilly areas. The town is also dotted with ‘ancesores’, which are effectively wooden boxes that crank you up the various steep hills, a very basic type of funicular.

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There is not a really a lot to do in Valparaiso but it is a lovely little town for aimless wandering and we enjoyed taking in the views from every corner and stopping at the many terraces for coffee, ice cream and wine (not all at once)!

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We also had the time to take a (hair-raising) bus to the neighbouring seaside town of Vina del Mar. The bus journey was more like a rollercoaster ride as the driver seemed to think it necessary to weave his way through the 3 lanes of traffic at around 100 km/hr. Public transport is confusing here, there are no bus stops and it took us quite a while to realise that you can just flag down a bus anywhere on the road…very handy once you know but not so good when you are walking all over town looking for the bus stop.

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We fly to Punta Arenas next…the gateway for our time in Patagonia. Following a shopping spree in Santiago I am all kitted out with new hiking boots, trousers and waterproofs…Lach upgraded his waterproof as well so we are both ready to hit the cold wintery weather. I am still not sure how ready I am for all the trekking though…I guess there is only one way to find out!

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Posted by karenandlach 08:18 Archived in Chile Comments (0)

Santiago

sunny 30 °C

Arriving at Bella Vista Travel Suites, Santiago, it becomes immediately apparent not a word of English is spoken. It’s Friday evening so “gracias”, pointing and a smile will have to do for the weekend until school on Monday.

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Saturday morning, day one, South America, sitting quietly enjoying a coffee when one of the local hobo’s makes off with my bottle of water. Brazen daylight robbery… oh, and by ‘makes off’ I mean walks a few yards away muttering incoherently.

Since the robbery I’ve been a little jittery, so the ‘safe’ school environment couldn’t have come too soon.

It was great to get some confidence with the language, if only to call for help at the next mugging (apparently they’re more frequent in Rio). Perhaps not essential, but knowing a little of the language enhances the experience exponentially and always brings a smile to the local Chilean’s face when you try.

Learning something (anything really) after a prolonged period of nothing was also really very rewarding.

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Our School

“Muy Bien Karen!” would become a repetitive theme of our week at school. Back to school week proved a challenge (for some of us). With each new word learned 10 more were heard and not understood in the real world outside of the classroom.

Kaz excelled at every stage, from her neat, grid like note taking, questions posed that really just showed how much she understood the lesson and continual correct answers, it was like sitting next to the smart (nerd) girl at school (annoying but very helpful). As I write she’s re-writing all her notes into an orderly format.

The classes are taught as ‘full immersion’, which basically means we’re teaching in Spanish and if you don’t understand something we’ll explain it to you… in Spanish! As a beginner with zero Spanish this can be tricky.

Outside the classroom our time in Santiago mostly consisted of going out around our local barrio, Bella Vista. Having some structure in our week after so long without was perfectly timed. School by 9.30am, home at 4.30pm, exercise, Pisco Sours at 7pm, dinner and do it again the next day.

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So finally school is out and feeling (most likely mistakenly) ready to take on the rest of South America, it’s on to Valparaiso. The schedule from here is packed and this place is huge, it’s going to be an exciting 3mths!

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Posted by karenandlach 18:13 Archived in Chile Comments (2)

Whitsundays & Great Barrier Reef

semi-overcast 32 °C

Mission Beach, certainly a mission to get to, perhaps not one you should accept. Moving swiftly on, Airlie Beach awaits. What a treat, apartment overlooking the bay, beautiful sunny days and table tennis. Kaz is hitting new heights in the sport, and more surprisingly showing a real passion for it. Accommodation choices are now based on availability of table, bat and ball. Retirement may come early to me after all.

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The Whitsundays provide a welcome distraction from the rigours of table tennis and pool lounges. Arriving onto Camira, our 37m catamaran for the day, you know you’re in for a great day mostly consisting of lounging. Camira sails from Airlie to Daydream Island, Whitehaven beach and then another location forgotten.

The real highlight is of course Whitehaven. The postcard pictures are the same in reality, perfect (minus the guy wearing a stinger suit one size too big looking like a boy wearing his dads shirt).

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Our last hurrah for Australia was a trip to The Great Barrier Reef. A high speed Cat whisks the hoards out to a pontoon on Knuckle Reef. En-route, the diving ‘mafia’ aboard the ship start the sell. A combination of curiosity and male bravado (yes, I was a little scared) and within a few hours we’re side by side learning to blow bubbles. Diving is quite honestly one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Hard to explain, everyone should just try it once. Looking forward to the next time already.

So its off to start the final leg of our trip. Sth America is ahead and its back to school, one week of Spanish lessons. Unfortunately I have to sit next to the dux of the class so learning Spanish should be embarrassing; at least I can copy the answers.

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Posted by karenandlach 03:41 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Mildura and Barossa Valley

sunny 33 °C

Our next stop was Mildura, which for those of you who don’t know is Lach’s hometown. It was really great having some home comforts again and eating home cooked food…not to mention all the yummy baked items that Dawn had prepared for us!

Lach’s Pop turned 90 while we were staying in Mildura and it was lovely that we could be part of the celebration. It also doubled up as a delayed Christmas for us. Dawn prepared a delicious turkey lunch for all the family, quite a task …11 adults and 4 children in total.

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It was a brilliant few days in Mildura…enjoying the 90th party, spending time with nieces and nephews, being treated to dinner by Brad and Emma, DIY BBQ’s on the river, soaking up the sunshine and eating lots!

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As a Christmas gift Dawn and Ross very generously treated us to 3 nights in the Barossa Valley, which was a wonderful few days. The Barossa Valley is Australia’s most renound wine region with around 60 cellar doors to choose from. We very much enjoyed being driven around the many wineries and taking in the beautiful landscape. We also had a great time swimming and playing in the park with Oliver and Scarlett in the resort we were staying! All in all, another fantastic few days relaxing and drinking wine!

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We are off to Queensland next…first stop Mission Beach!

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Posted by karenandlach 21:35 Archived in Australia Comments (1)

Melbourne and Mornington Peninsula

semi-overcast 25 °C

After 5 years away Melbourne has really grown on me. It’s the first time I’ve been back and really appreciated how great a city Melbourne is. Since leaving for the UK in 2006 there has been an explosion of development in areas I once lived.

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Having some locals to show us around was pretty good too. How strange, I never thought I would need to be shown the best of my own town. From funky new bars on Smith St, to gastronomic fayre at the likes of Cutler and Co. and Movida it was a brilliant few days re-tasting the delights on offer.

We also managed to squeeze in a day of wine and cheese on the Mornington Peninsula. Some great wineries that, again, neither Kaz nor myself had ever experienced.

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It was great to catch up with everyone, big thanks to Grayson, Kim, Clint, Rachel, Larz and Jonno for making us feel so welcome back at home!

I’m missing Melbourne already, see you all again soon!

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Posted by karenandlach 22:07 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Sydney & Blue Mountains

sunny 29 °C

Sorry for the very long delay in getting this blog uploaded….our pace has slowed a lot since we hit Australia and the blog writing seems to have slowed along with it. We will get back on track now though ahead of reaching South America.

We arrived in Sydney just in time for some New Year’s Eve partying. After the long journey from Hong Kong via Brisbane, a quick turnaround was needed when we arrived at Tommy and Krissy’s apartment. We got our party glad rags on and ventured out. The party was on a terrace overlooking Bondi…a great night!

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We had 5 nights in Sydney and really enjoyed catching up with people and seeing some familiar faces…after 2 nights of hospitality from Tommy and Krissy we moved on to Glenn and Beren’s apartment where we enjoyed another 3 nights of great hospitality and they were both brilliant tour guides.

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A lot of our time in Sydney was spent relaxing in Bondi and surrounding areas. We couldn’t believe how busy Bondi beach was while we were there…you could hardly see any sand for all the people. We also did the coastal walk to Coogee, which was a great day…it is a lovely trail with stunning scenery.

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After 5 days in Sydney we hired a car and headed to the Blue Mountains for a brief one-night stop. It was a fantastic day and definitely worth the short drive. We stopped at Wentworth Falls on the way to Kaloomba where we were staying for the night. It is an incredibly scenic little spot and we did a couple of short walks, one to the falls and another to one of the viewing points. The next stop was the quaint little village of Leura where we enjoyed a delicious lunch.

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On arrival in Kaloomba we did another short walk to see the Three Sisters and decided to walk on to Scenic World where you can take a cable car across the valley. Unfortunately by the time we eventually found it (signposts were a bit lacking), it was closed. A lovely day, topped off by a night in a brilliant little B&B where Lach enjoyed sipping on the complimentary port!

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Posted by karenandlach 13:33 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Hong Kong

semi-overcast 21 °C

After a 14 hour journey from Boracay we reached our last stop in Asia… Hong Kong!

Our first day in HK was pretty relaxed, spending some time taking in a few of the key sights– the Peak, Mongkok, markets and malls. It is an easy city to walk around and the transport system is excellent, the transfer from the airport was one of the smoothest we have ever experienced.

Our first evening in Hong Kong was one of the best of the trip so far. As a wedding gift Fiona had treated us to a night out in HK…an evening cruise aboard Aqua Luna to watch the Symphony of Lights followed by dinner and cocktails at Hutong.

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The evening didn’t start too well…on arrival at Central Pier for our 7.30pm cruise the taxi driver asked us which number pier we would like. Unfortunately I had no idea that there was more than one and had paid no attention to the booking. We spent the next 15 minutes running up and down the piers – there are 9 and it is about a kilometre from one end to the other. I had just invested in a pair of heels that day in preparation for New Year’s Eve so Lach had to do most of the running while I hobbled behind him! We eventually spotted the red sails of Aqua Luna on pier 9…we just made it!

Following this little hiccup the rest of the evening was fantastic. The harbour cruise was brilliant…good music, wine and the Symphony of Light show. On arrival at Hutong we were seated at our window table with an amazing view of the Hong Kong skyline…we then enjoyed excellent food, wine and cocktails…what a treat! Dinner over…but the night wasn’t. Next stop on Fi’s agenda….Lan Kwai Fong and Azure for more cocktails with a view.

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Having lived in HK for 6 months Fi had plenty of tips and must dos and one of the big ones was vodka jelly shots at Al’s. It was time for us to leave our night of sophistication behind us as we ventured down onto the LKF strip and headed for Al’s for our jelly shots! We partied on until 2am after that...all in all, a fabulous night!

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The following day we were heading for Lamma, another of Fi’s recommendations…an island 30 minutes from HK mainland. We arrived on one side of the island and followed the “family trail”…a pleasant 90 minute stroll across the island passing a couple of little sandy beaches and soaking in the village life and beautiful scenery along the way. We ended the walk in Sok Kwu Wan… at Rainbow restaurant and Lach feasted on seafood while I watched!

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The rest of our time in HK was spent taking in a few more of Fi’s recommendations, which included even more rooftop cocktails…a great few days and a good build up to New Year in Sydney!

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Posted by karenandlach 23:14 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (1)

Boracay

all seasons in one day 28 °C

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Easily competing with any beach in the world. Aptly named, White Beach, Boracay is instant bliss. That I’d not even heard of it until a few months earlier (Thanks Fi!) is hard to believe. Getting there can be a challenge, one more than worth taking.

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A 1am flight from KL connecting to an 8.30am flight from Manila (3.5hr stop in Manila airport) to Caticlan. From here it is an auto rickshaw, ferry, and finally ‘jeepney’ to reach your final destination.

With a traffic free beachside promenade (a sandy path) and countless café’s, bars & restaurants to boot it was the perfect place to celebrate Christmas. Being 80% Christian the Filipino’s love Christmas. Lots of big celebrations from all night clubbing at Summer Place or Epic to Seafood buffet’s at Friday’s or one of the many resorts.

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The mix of people is unlike anywhere we’ve been. Clubbing singles, partying couples (sort of), families, locals, European, American, Australian, Scottish… almost everyone from around the world collects here.

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Our Christmas day consisted of nachos and cocktails served to our beach chairs followed by wine and cheese from the local delicatessen. Not your average Christmas, Turkey is served up en-masse for Christmas eve in the Philippines.

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It has everything you will find at the best South East Asian beaches, only its better. The fruit smoothies are amazing, better than Vietnam according to Kaz. And bewilderingly the very best can be found at Kalibo airport. If you find yourself passing through, stop by Miggy’s Place and make sure you get one.

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Our fourth flight with Cebu Pacific out of Boracay provided one final highlight. “The fun airline” put on a show. The cabin crew had choreographed the safety demonstration to ‘All I want for Christmas is you”, hilarious!

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Posted by karenandlach 02:33 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

Merry Christmas!!

overcast 28 °C

Merry Christmas from Boracay!

Hope you all have a wonderful day...so far we have spent the day on the beach and had Nachos for lunch...not quite the traditional Christmas!

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Posted by karenandlach 00:53 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

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