Reflections on the Journey Home

This morning wasnt too stressful surprisingly – the airport in Santiago is certainly not as chaotic as Juliaca up in the Andes or Lima in Peru and we were flying Qantas which was departing on time unlike almost all the Lan and Aerolineas flights we had taken. We managed a visit to the American Airlines lounge at the airport and purchased some pisco sour to help us come down slowly on our return home…

I almost burst into tears when I boarded the plane with my smiling hola and the nice man grinned back at me with a big “G’day!” It was so unexpected and I think I was both exhausted and overwhelmed with everything we had done and everywhere we had been. Muchas gracias may stay on the tip of the tongue for some time me thinks – but that G’day greeting was more welcome than you can imagine!

My beloved was happy too but not quite as emotional as we sat in our beautiful big new Qantas jet ready to head home, but as soon as we were in the air his emotions were a little different. The older Spanish lady in front of him reclined with her head almost into his lap and stuck her feet up on the seat in front! TThis was before the seatbelt light had gone off! Reminiscent of the Macchu Piccu bus ride without the knee cap problems! Fortunatemente she was disturbed by the fact that husbands tv screen kept bouncing her seat back (I cant imagine why?) and she relocated to a spare seat on the other side of the plane which was left by passengers stranded in Buenos Aires through some sort of strike in Argentina – obviously they dont just put rocks on the road over that way. Ironically her seat was then no longer reclined!

Anyway all is well in the air somewhere over the Pacific between Antartica and the South Pacific Islands. (dont worry I’m not going to send love messages through the fancy little messaging system this time (might end up going to the lady who just moved) – I’ll just stick with telling him personally!)

What interesting and or useless things have we learned?

There are eucalyptus trees all over the place – originally imported from Australia (at least we saw a lot in Valparaiso and Peru (where they are used a lot but also considered pests) – I noted the locals in the Andes like to sniff Eucalyptus to keep their airways clear.

The pre-Inca language spoken by the locals on the floating islands of Lake Titikaka has a lot of similarities with Japanese and many tourists come from Japan solely for that reason.

Wild pigs left by early explorers and settlers are a problem in Patagonia just like they can be in Australia.

The dogs I originally thought were starving and too tired to move are actually fed by everyone making them too lazy and too fat to move!

Condors only prey on the dead – so dont stop for too long in remote wilderness regions lest you be mistaken for the dead!

Flying from Juliaca to Lima over the Andes was interesting and bumpy (read frightening) and we still dont know why people decided to climb them and live there (post Inca and pre Inca included).

I dont think anywhere really looked like Julia Creek but then, I’m not the expert on Julia Creek so maybe husband was right everytime.

If you really want to try roasted guinea pig (cuy) you should ask for it without its head as the mouth roasted open suggests the poor little thing was screaming as it was cooked (dont worry we didn’t eat them).

Watch out for dog poop everywhere you walk, and I mean everywhere! – only the national parks are safe from this problem.

Vegetarians and people from some Asian countries have more trouble with Altitude sickness than we did because they are picky eaters and dont eat enough red meat. (That is according to one of our tour guides and may or may not be true – maybe you can check wikapedia again).

Much to the horror of my beloved I may have exposed myself to future imprisonment – I have become a law breaker – yes I admit it – I crossed at lights that didnt say walk – many many times! (even when police were present with big guns and battons!). I accidently took some photos when I wasnt allowed – and last but not least – This may or may not result in breaking laws – I signed things that were in spanish and I had no idea what I was signing! But if we wanted to stay in those hotels – or go on that tour – we had no choice. Someone had to sign!

Husband is confident that either speaking Spanish or being with someone who speaks some Spanish is mandatory for many of the places we visited particularly if you are not on an organised tour! In my opinion even where we had organised things it is useful knowing how to say “necessito bano ahora!” (I need the toilet right now!) Or “Help – Ayuda my wife has just been sick on the floor!”

So what was great about the trip and what experiences were the best?

First of all I think the fellow travellers we have been fortunate to have come across have made the trip so great – mostly sharing experiences in Patagonia, Argentina and Peru. Firstly Marilyn and Lloyd both in the bus and at Ushuaia, and all the Canadian adventurers, Ginger and Gail and Carol whose hiking prowess and friendship made Torres del Paine and Cape Horn such a pleasure (and who donated a great Steinbeck book to the library in my pack), particular credit to Carol whose patience and photographic eye inspired us to stop every now and then to smell the roses metaphorically speaking (and photograph the smaller things), (hopefully we will hear from one or two of them soon as they visit downunder), Stacey and Lorena who we need to thank with a big dinner in Oz or Hawaii some time.

Ulrich and Heike also stand out for hiking prowess and great company (must be because they’re German lawyers) it may well also be the French Valley hike and the sharing of the heirloom brandy made by Ulrich’s father which ensured they will always be remembered! Only sorry we didnt have the stamina to stay longer at the bar at Iguazu and keep up with them!

Of course the tango girls Cassie and Stacey who hiked the Inca trail were inspiring and great fun and numerous others who sat and chatted with us on trains, boats and buses (and in bars and restaurants) giving us tips and patiently listening to our stories over and over and over (especially the one about the lost gopro!) (actually maybe I was the only one who heard that one over and over). I think it is fair to say that fellow travellers develop a unique bond regardless of where they are from and its nice to sit and have a drink and a chat and debrief after some of these experiences or to share tips for future destinations.

Due to the nature of the trip it was difficult to get to know the locals well – especially when my basic spanish did not extend to Glaswegian or Swaheli dialects and husbands Spanish was non existent! Nevertheless there were some great moments communicating with people all over the place – often when ordering one thing and receiving another! The young boy at the airport in Buenos Aires and the little boys practising English on the plane to Puenta Arenas also stand out.

As far as tour guides go Juan Adriana and Diego stand out in Torres del Paine and for much of our journey as being helpful, entertaining and filled with enthusiasm. (And for ensuring I did not fly to Antartica like Mary Poppins would have if she was there!) For most of the Argentinian adventure we were our own guides although Ulrich and Heike’s driver “omar” in Iguazu was a great catch. Cusco saw us being passed between a few different guides that followed script to the letter teaching us about the Spanish and the Incas. The pickups and dropoffs in Peru were always on time and well organised although these tours, while being informative and, at times, necessary, were usually quite strict and with minimal humour (a bit of laughter goes a long way when you are faced with such horrors of history and physically exhausted). Macchu Piccu was, thankfully on our own! We would say the diving team and Scuba duba in Puerto Madryn were great too and I am thankful fear did not prevent me from playing bait to the orcas for that one day. My beloved tells all it was the best diving experience he has had so that’s saying something for someone who has had so many dives! And finally of course one must learn to tango in Buenos Aires without question! A failure to partake in this dance of love is to deprive ones senses of the electricity of one of lifes great thrills (especially if your beloved is as hot at tango as mine)! lol.

For me must sees in these parts of world are Valparaiso, Torres del Paine, Cape Horn, jumping in with the sea lions in Puerto Madryn, both sides of Iguazzu, Cusco and Macchu Piccu – I’d head to Titikaka to see the floating islands but I’d try and find a private driver and check out some not so touristy stops up on the altiplano. Husband would say Puerto Madryn diving. There are obviously many other places we did not get to and others will suggest Antartica (it was so close) or the Argentinian Glaciers and hikes near the border to Torres del Paine – we were challenged quite enough given anyway that we live at sea level and rarely see a mountain at all, let alone the ones they have in South America! And frankly our trip to Cape Horn was fantastic and we were pleased to have made the landing!

We genuinely feel so privileged to have been able both physically and financially to have partaken in these experiences knowing there are many less fortunate who may never have these opportunities – although I will say with a backpack and a cheap hotel or hostel (and an uncomfortable bus) – its surprising how far the money can go if you at least have the physical capacity. Hopefully sharing the stories and a few of the photos might give some pleasure to those at home (especially those who should have been looking after the animals and mowing the lawn) and to others who have taken the time to read and follow this blog.

We hope that if you’ve met us along the way or even if you just enjoy the blog you will put a comment up and keep in contact with us! Editing and photos will be uploaded when we return home so stay following to ensure you catch the updates.

We will also be back soon with more adventures – next time the Camino – until then Adios!

 

Iguazu and Iguacu Falls

We have just spent two nights in Iguazu (the Argentinian side) and were pleased with the recommendation of Grandad and Joan to stay in the only hotel actually inside the national park as the town itself was definitely nothing more than a pile of hotels and taxi stands at least twenty minutes away. Sadly my thoughts of leaving behind the South American Jetstar were shattered when our flight from Buenos Aires with LAN was delayed not only after we had arrived at the airport but after we had literally jogged to the gate which I estimate was about 4 kilometres past checkin!

Nevertheless during the delay there was an opportunity to communicate with a young man whose mother and brother were on the other side of the glass waiting for him to leave. He was so thrilled to have met someone from Australia and we chatted for quite a while. He was leaving his family for the first time and heading south to work. I think I told him we had two boys at home – his mother and brother were using sign language (in Spanish) to communicate through the glass also so it was an interesting half hour. He even gave grabbed me as we were leaving and did the spanish cuddle much to my surprise! My Spanish has been improving bit by bit, but during the little jaunt to the gate (not to the cat) we had become rather confused and I frequently stopped to ask where Gate 15 was and for the life of me I do not know what came over me – I know at home that el gato is el diablo so why on earth did people keep looking at me with perplexed faces – Was it because I kept asking “donde es el gato quincy?” or “Where is the cat fifteen?” Puerta I should have remembered is both door and gate! El gato is the cat – or at our place more commonly known as el diablo – the devil!

Anyway we made it to the hotel in reasonable time to take a late afternoon walk and find our bearings and catch our first views of the falls. The park was not meant to shut until 6pm but it seemed the rangers found it necessary after 5 to go around putting closed (cerrado) chains across to stop people going in to lookouts and not coming out in time. Thankfully a group of very thoughtful sightseeers were running along at the same time as us and opening the chains so we were able (within the legally permitted times) to catch our first views of the falls – rainbows and all – it is impossible to put into words just how magical they are but I will try – thundering, majestic, powerful, gigantic, unbelievable ! We were also able to meet a family of little monkeys along with the long nosed rodents that frequent all areas of the park. 

Upon returning to our hotel we headed to the bar in the hope of finding our German friends from Torres del paine. Unfortunately hunger got the better of us before we could locate them so we headed down to the restaurant and what do you know! There is Heike and Ulrich sitting at the first table inside the door! It was great to catch up with them and share a few more stories of travel and home – Heike told us of their trek at Fitzroy in Argentinian Patagonia where she was literally needing to commando crawl due to the wind – reminded me of our trip to Grey Glacier where we stopped short of learning to fly our first day in Torres del Paine! 

Anyway next day we headed out to really get to see the falls and caught a truck through the jungle to catch the boat upstream and go under the falls – this was needless to say a little bit of fun! The noise, the power, the water – we were wet wet wet and we could not recommend it enough! We then followed the track up the Argentine side and caught different views of the falls all the way up – just unbelievable. In the afternoon we caught a bus into town to check it out and change some money and it was here that we confirmed the decision to stay in the park was the best! We had falls views from our balcony and we could wander early or late – as we had done the afternoon before. 

The next morning we were able to get a late checkout – thank heavens as husband was recovering from his flu and mine was now in full swing! Chest pains from coughing and all! Never to let a little illness get in the way of sightseeing we headed off early (because we were in the park) to catch the first train to the start of the walk out to Garganta del diablo – the throat of the devil! Again – nothing short of spectacular – this time we were literally standing on top of the falls watching this humongous volume of water thunder down and spray back up at us – again we were wet wet wet and it was only 9am in the morning. 

Back to our hotel for our late checkout we had time to dry our clothes on the sun drenched balcony, I had time  to laze by the pool and husband had time to watch tv and catch up on facebook – poor thing was feeling a bit exhausted but the worse was yet to come.

So Heike and Ulrich had recommended a driver who picked us up at 12.30 and seemed a little uncertain of our ability to action the planned itinerary because we had left it so late (because we needed a rest!). Anyway we headed through town and over the border into Brazil and down to the bridge to Paraguay. This particular area is where three branches of rivers meet and three countries meet but it is not as simple as standing on one point and being in three countries (although we did stand with one leg in Brazil and one in Argentina for a photo). No, the bridge to Paraguay is a little more complicated and the city in Paraguay is just a tad more interesting. Our driver was a little concerned that we may not come back I think so he decided to park in a secure lot and walk over the bridge to Cuidad del Esta with us. Due to the fact that this city is a duty free haven, mecca for wild things and the country is very poor the worry was we would be held up, pick pocketed or abducted as we just looked a little too non local (read white hair is somewhat standoutish!) The bridge also was undergoing road work which meant crossing in a car was a three our journey each way. Walking was a mere 10 minutes although it was by this time stinking hot and we were still not well but the thrill of exposing ourselves to danger, witnessing complete chaos, and buying a new sd card in Paraguay meant we had to do it.

The walk was initially uneventful but then we were lucky to see the gates on the Paraguay side open and the motor bike taxis storm across the bridge after having waited forever horns tooting hundreds at once – no lane control, just speed and engines blazing – they stop all traffic one way for some time while they let the other side through – the lineup of cars went on forever on both sides also. For foot passengers there was no need to line up we just had to do the right thing with Brazilian immigration but no need to visit the Paraguay immigration (well actually it was best not to lest we be charged a months salary for walking across the bridge apparantly). We also witnessed a customs dispute with a crowd gathering and shouting at the customs police to let the people through!

After returning from this very interesting 45 minute visit to Paraguay we headed straight to the Bird Park in Brazil which initially looked like it was going to be a dissappointment as the first birds were behind cages and we could barely see them – but then we went in to the open areas where we were able to see beautiful Macaws and Toucans up close along with the odd vulture, boa constrictor and a butterfly or two. This park is a refuge for injured animals apparantly and was worth the visit. 

Then came our last stop for the day, the Brazilian side of the falls. Unfortunately here we had to spend more time on the bus inside the park than we actually spent looking at the falls but this visit was again worthwhile. This time you walk out on man made metal tracks and stand almost in the falls – this was spectacular again and would be a must for anyone who had not done the boat ride the day before – for us it was still a thrill as the thundering volumes of water are just beyond imagination. Omar told us we now have to rent the movie “The Mission” as Robert DeNiro stayed where we did when it was being made and we will see plenty of views of the falls that were taken from places we had visited over the last few days.

Anyway itinerary complete at Iguazu we were at the airport in time for our flight to Peru. We had extended our itinerary to include Peru as many told us that it was their favourite country, Cuzco was beautiful and Macchu Picu was site to be seen. Plus we were so close! Anyway yet again our flight was delayed but this time we were in a domestic airport that had one large room with a cafe for the international flights. It was a little disturbing. We were exhausted – we were unable to email the person I had arranged to pick us up in Lima to inform them of the delay – internet was unavailable – and no shopping! Then came the news that our flight was being diverted for “mechanical reasons” to Assuncion in Paraguay! Two trips to Paraguay in one day – werent we lucky. 

 

Reflections on Argentina

Well, as you know we arrived at the worlds Southerly most city before flying half way to Buenos Aires and visiting Puerto Madryn. There we felt like the only foreign travellers as the peak season was over and there were no ships in port lending the 2 thousand or so day visitors to the place. It was a dry flat landscape although I did note on our return to the Trelew airport there were a few hills in the area – but nothing like Torres del Paine.

Flying in to Buenos Aires was like entering another world. There was greenery everywhere and a massive waterway seemed to be surrounding this vast city. Arrival at the airport suggested we had arrived in a very affluent country and, we caught the airport transfer bus to downtown (the sick boy was not overly thrilled to find our hotel was some blocks away from the final stop), but the trip was interesting as a little detour due to roadworks showed us that a short trip off the beaten track were some pretty poor areas with some homes barely having a roof over the occupants heads. Clearly Buenos Aires (BA) has a great divide between the haves and have nots.

Walking the streets of the city you see (on more than one occasion) poverty stricken families begging for money in dirty clothes and clearly no home of great attraction – this is alongside some of the most expensive labels anywhere in the world. Practising something I had learned in Cambodia I suggested we do not give money to the children as (at least in Cambodia) that encourages the parents to put them on display and tug at peoples heartstrings. We agreed to give food when we saw someone clearly struggling. I did notice the same family street hopping a few times – and wondered what was going on there – we will never know.

The tourist bus around the city cleverly avoided the really poor areas so I’m glad we had the airport detour and accidentally caught the locals bus – BA is clearly not all the bright lights it seems on first impression.

On a different note – Just when we thought we had figured out the shopping hours (our last night in BA) we discovered we still had no idea what the hell was going on. It seemed they were closed in the morning as they opened late. Then they closed in the afternoon for siesta. Now it seems they close early at night so everyone can go and eat or dance – what the hell is going on? Day one was Sunday so maybe the closure in the morning was to do with that – the siesta is a given everywhere we go – but what is happening at night? How on earth does one find time to shop in this city?

Another point of note is an interesting titbit that my friend Ginger told me about. These ladies wear “big” shoes. This may be due to the fact that a high proportion of the population are vertically challenged or may be a death wish on behalf of all females here. These are not just high heels, these are platforms (even on thongs (or flipflops as the rest of the world call them) ) and they only just stop short of what I would consider to be a form of stilts! You can google High steppers and see one version of them. The reason I consider these “shoes” (read “stilts”) suicidal is that the footpaths and sidewalks are not exactly smooth sailing. Sometimes there are cobblestones, lids are left off service accesses, concrete is broken – you get the picture – what is going on here? You cant even tango in the darn things, yet every second woman is wearing them!

Colonia del Sacramento Uruguay

Colonia, as it is known to the locals, is a lovely little UNESCO listed town on the shores of the Rio del la Plata opposite buenos aires. Apart from some modern buildings there is a very old city with early portuguese architecture and also has the oldest church in Uruguay. My friend Ximena recommended a visit and all the guide books suggest its worth a visit, if only so you can have a break from BA and withdraw us dollars from the atms.

After our night of tango I was feeling the need for antibiotics myself so hit the medicine kit before leaving our hotel and therefore I arrived at another boat feeling nauseous and ready to be sick. This is before we've even hit the water – again! Husband is still not feeling too good either so we get through customs and find our way on board only to sleep most of the journey. I have had to take the antinausea drug as I think the antibiotic made me sick. Anyway when we disembark we arrive at a quiet little town with beautiful buildings, trees and sandy beaches beside the muddy waters of this exceptionally wide river (it takes an hour on a fast boat to cross). It really was a pleasant little town and probably was the best thing we could have done for the day. But it was hot – damned hot.

The trouble is neither of us are bouncing about with a spring in our step, the climb up the lighthouse just seemed too much in the heat of the day (it seems we are reverting to our prepatagonia selves) so we cafe hop for air con and cold drinks and site see in between stops. It is certainly a break from the chaos of BA and we do have the opportunity to withdraw some US dollars which are good for getting a better exchange rate than direct withdrawals from atms in Argentina but all in all I think we could have done with a complete day of rest. Oh well…

Tomorrow we are off to Iguazu Falls on the Argentine, Paraguay, Brazil border. There will be no rest for the weary there, so desafortunatement the melanga will have to go on without us tonight (without the hot new lord of the tango) and we will rest and recover in air conditioned comfort ready for the next adventure!

Photos will come – i need to upload and shrink them first and most of the internet has been too slow thus far – maybe tomorrow.

 

Lord of the Tango

We were picked up early from our hotel and after a zig zag ride in the mini bus through the city, we were herded up the stairs into a dance space that looked like it had been operating for over 100 years. (I later found out it was built in 1895). There were probably 30 people in the lesson – some couples, some singles and a few small groups of guys and gals from all over – including Israel, South Korea and England – locals dont need lessons! It was the first time we had encountered so many Australians in the same place since leaving home. Was it a hidden desire of all Australian men to hold their women in these romantic poses? Or were they unceremoniously dragged through hot coals to get here? Or, like my beloved, were they doing it for the love of their wife or partner – happy to follow her to the ends of the earth – even though absolutely terrified? Actually many were backpackers out for a good laugh and, as it happens, the male dance instructer was hilarious. Husband was at the front of the mens group and he was smiling and he was hot (still had a bit of a fever actually)!

Women please move this way! One foot forward, one to the side,two steps back and then one two to the side. Men – the opposite. Then the leg lift – then the face! A few dropped out immediately as the horror of actually dancing set in. Not my man!

So they teach us separately then we have to put it all together – leg wrapped around husband – head turn to the side, serious face, no laughing!!! He held his hand out perfectly and danced me around the floor without fault. Twenty three years of marriage and I finally find out he can dance? Okay that might be an exaggeration as his rock and roll exhibits in the past (especially at bluesfest) have been a little lacking – but he can tango! Isn't that what is most important in the world? Isn't that what every woman needs? A man who can tango?

After the lessons we are seated in the theatre enjoying our meals and wine and this tango lady jumps off the stage, swoops down and grabs him up for another tango! He is sought after by the professionals! He is terrified! He grasps helplessly for his wine! Its too late – she has him in her clutches! I am laughing my head off just looking at his face as I quickly grab the camera for a snap. This night will be remembered – tomorrow night maybe the melanga where the locals go – he is too good to stop now!

But now i am coughing up a storm, aching again and feeling an undeniable need to be curled up in bed. Tomorrow we have a day trip to Uruguay how will we cope? Up all night dancing – fever – coughs – Just gotta love travelling haven't you…..

 

Visitamos Buenos Aires

Okay he did it – he learnt to tango – and he was hot! But more on that later.

So we left Puerto Madryn for Buenos Aires with my beloved feeling a little less than ordinary. By the time we boarded the plane he was threatening to be sick. I was deeply concerned as he was in the aisle and I was trapped in the window seat. I sidled up so close to that window that I almost fell through it! Thankfully we made it to BA unscathed and, after hiking with our backpacks a little further than the sick boy would have liked, we checked in to our hotel which was perfectly located in the centre of the city. The only problem being that the plan to only book one night online and pay for the next three with cash failed immediately as they were booked out the next night. So husband ingested drugs and went to bed whilst I flitted around town seeking new accommodation, gathering supplies and generally window shopping (Saturday afternoon siesta meant everything was closed again). Anyway found a nice little hotel with great air conditioning and a pool only a block away (the Sheraton). So much for roughing it in BA! Our excuse – he was feverish and needed reliable airconditioning and I needed a shower where the water did not pool around your ankles as you showered – bliss!

Anyway next morning backpacks on and we walked the 250 metres to the new hotel and fortunately they allowed us to check in immediately. So after a brief rest in the air con (with husband ingesting more drugs) we headed off down Florida Street in search of the hop on hop off bus with air conditioning. The number of dudes yelling, whispering, singing “Cambio cam cam cambio” was overwhelming. It seemed like there were too many dodgy lookers to even contemplate changing our money with them. And then what do you know “Is that Gail and Tom?” Lorena and Stacey from Hawaii were walking towards us. Stacey entertained us with his tale of almost being robbed by the building junk being thrown on him as a distraction whilst someone pretending to help grabbed his laptop bag and replaced it with a decoy. (He chased the guy and retrieved it thankfully) I recalled someone else saying how the gypsies had thrown something foul on them and pretented to help rub it off while they pickpocketed them.

What do you know, another few blocks on and I have  pigeon poop land on the back of my leg just before a pretend Australian asked us for directions to San Telmo – which is exactly where I wanted to take the tourist bus to. We couldnt stop for the bird poo as we were (I was) paranoid about the pickpockets (the pretend Australian didnt help either) and I had at hand the chemist bag as we had just bought antibiotics so I used it (the bag) to scrape the poop off as we walked, radar on and fully alert in a 360 degree radius – waiting for someone to jump up and pretend to help me whilst they tried to access my broken zip pacsafe bag ( I threw the cheap copy some time ago when everything kept falling out). How did they train the pigeon to aim so well? We continued on in a lather of sweat seeking the tourist bus. Me, not accepting of the possibility at this point that the bird poop was completely random.

Suddenly after too many blocks (probably 15 or 16) and a Tango dancer or two, we spotted a bus and in the chaos, and being fully alert for the bird poop thrower I bought us tickets and insisted husband get on. A few blocks later, we were heading into the dingiest part of town and there aint no tourists to be seen. After referring to the map I suggested we were heading to La Boca and we werent on the tourist bus! The back streets of La boca are where you shouldnt go apparently and husband is cursing me and saying we shouldnt have got on this bus as the sweat drips from his fever ridden body, and I am convinced I was pickpocketed my hundred or so pesos when the pigeon poo arrived. We were both wrong!

Just as I found my pesos in another pocket a swiss lady appeared in front of us, she spoke four languages at home – French German Italian and Romany or some mix of Italian and German. Just for extras she also spoke Spanish and English! We were in luck – today was Sunday and it was the only day of the week to go to La Boca, the place where Tango began! And there were markets on! She told us to hold our bags, and go in have a look and get out – have a look at the coloured houses but dont stop too long in one place. Well that is what we did! We saw a bit of Tango on the street, avoided buying any touristy trinkets, took a few photos and then – as if arriving on script – the tourist bus arrived!

After much marital discussion we purchased the $20 usd tickets (as opposed to the $2 local bus tickets) and we climbed aboard – grabbed some earphones and headed back to Centro – in air conditioned comfort! My beloved is still feeling more than unwell so we decide to hop off in town and head back to the hotel. I have a quick swim and then decide I need to once again find San Telmo antique markets – this time I take a taxi and leave husband to rest and recuperate.

Well what a find, these Sunday markets went on forever! Although the antique dealers were starting to pack up, the artists, the leather goods and the handicrafts stayed out in force. Just as I was ready to head back down the street and find a taxi I stumbled across Defense St – it went on and on and on and on. I kept checking the map and knew that it was heading back to where we had taken the not so touristy bus that morning so I kept going on and on and on and on. I dont think I have ever seen so many market stalls in one place – or in one line for that matter. At one point I see the Lululemon label on the back of a top in front of me – she looks a bit familiar – I know its Canadian – but its hard to tell from behind – so I just quietly say “Jill” and low and behold – there is Jill one of the nice Canadians from the bus trip to Torres del Paine – you know, the bear cave stop. We had a quick chat and she was heading off to find some food to eat at her hostel after reminding me the last time she saw Tom was when we missed the boat after French Valley and we “were forced” to wait it out in the bar! The day he donated the binoculars to the next lucky camper.

I continued on through the never ending stalls occassionally being swooped upon by a lost pigeon – still alert I am constantly looking out for the Gypsy pickpockets or the pretend Australians who have managed to train these darn pigeons! I think at this point I am becoming just slightly paranoid and again maybe a little insane but woe is he who so much as brushes passed my pocket!

Whilst doing this extensive market hike Stacey and Lorena have sent a couple of messages asking if we would like to catch up for dinner. The day was going well! Husband is still not lookin (or sounding) particularly well but we have obtained extra antibiotics for him and he decides to join us for and Argentinian barbeque. The setting was a little macabre to say the least, stuffed animal heads all around the walls, but I can only assume these large animals were eaten if the size of the servings on each plate was anything to go by. So I can accept their heads as monuments to those that have fallen in the name of hunger! But I dont think I’d want them on my wall at home.

So the next day we are up not too early and head up two blocks to the nearest tourist bus stop (yes I know yesterday two people at reception found it important to send us to the number 1 stop on the route rather than just the closest – which is why we had such an adventurous day so we shouldnt complain – although husband was somewhat unwell! ) Anyway on the bus we hop off at Recolleta and visit the City of the Dead – I know there are some graves like this in cemeteries in Australia – but not a whole city of them! You can stick your head in the little houses (if so inclined) or open the door and sit on a seat and talk to the coffin (if that’s your cup of tea) or, like us, you can marvel at the expense and intricacy of the displays and the fact that the coffins are placed on shelves for all to see and you can take plenty of photos. We did see where Eva Peron is “buried” or rather laying with her family, and I’m sure many of the other “graves” were those of famous people too (if you are Argentinian).

Back on the bus we went around the city and eventually decided to hop off and head home through Florida St. We popped into a less salubrious hotel and changed some money (at a good rate) and investigated Tango Shows in a number of little booths before stumbling across the Tango Show with lessons – just like the one in I had imagined – Jackpot! They would pick us up from our hotel – feed us – give us wine and beer all night and we would learn how to tango! I was thrilled and husband was terrified!

 

Our sea lion trip – Was it the calm before the storm?

I do hope not. But since we disembarked from our sea lion trip the wind has steadily increased throughout the day. I have also received a message from the airline saying our flight was leaving earlier than planned. Fortunatemente (my second most favourite spanish word) this will be our last Aerolineas flight as the rest are with LAN. Aerolineas seem to like changing schedules and might be this continents answer to Jetstar!

Anyway another lady informed us that it is going to be very cold tomorrow so I guess we were more than lucky to strike the perfect day for boating and snorfelling.

I am just reflecting back again and forgot to mention that we bumped into our favourite Canadian couple again in Ushuaia (you know Lloyd and Marilyn who caught the bus with us from Punta Arenas up to Torres del Paine). It was like meeting old friends – when we went to find our luggage there they were looking like the professional hikers they are, lighting up the room with their smiles – they were checking in to head to Antartica – they had caught the 12 hour bus across from Chile a day or two before and by all accounts we didnt miss too much flying out of Ushuaia on the day we arrived – we had a few hours to walk around town and check the joint out. We still hope to see the German hikers again at Iguazu Falls and to catch up with our other favourite single Canadians Ginger Gail and Carol in Oz and or Canada and might even visit Hawaii and catch up with Lorena and Stacey one day. Who knows whether Adriana and Diego will ever make it to Oz but that would be great too.

Anyway another night has passed in Puerto Madryn, after the sea lion adventure we explored around town a bit. Rather than the touristy spots we headed out on foot to see a bit of the real town. Not overly attractive i have to say and since leaving the far South there are notably a few shady looking characters hanging about. I remember when we arrived in Punta Arenas our taxi driver Roxanne told us that the people in her town were “muy amable” very friendly and she was right. So for a while since flying out of Santiago we have been able to relax a little and enjoy and the broken zip on my pacsafe bag has not seemed such a problemo.

On our walk around we also dropped back in to the dive shop (Scuba Duba) – the nice people who had taken us out to the sea lions and found out that this town has a very unique celebration on and under the pier during holy week. They do the stations of the cross above and under the water. The priest gets decked out in dive gear and says the prayers from lit up crosses underwater and his voice is heard on the surface – it sounds like the whole town gets involved so if anyone is really looking for a unique way to celebrate their Catholicism we may have found it! Get your scuba gear on and get into it! (or apparantly stand on the pier with thousands and watch from above!)

 

This morning the wind is still up and I am glad that our boat trip yesterday was on the perfect day. Husband did not contract my tummy bug fortunatemente however he awoke in the middle of the night with rather severe coughing and seemingly a chest infection. He was whinging a bit yesterday but it wasnt too obvious because our morning with the sea lions was so good. Anyway out came the medical cabinet again. Hopefully he chirps up soon – we are flying to Buenos Aires today and guess what! Its time to tango!!!!!

believe it or not this is me with sea lions behind

a quick scratch on shore

 

Dont Cry for me Argentina!

The truth is I never left Chile! Yes that’s right, I think I’m having Chile withdrawals. We disembarked in Ushuaia yesterday morning and, due to Aerolineas schedule changes, had to fly out the same day to Trelew. There we thought we’d get to look around a bit but the transfer to Puerto Madryn was almost immediate. We caught a toyota coaster bus, not unlike the one Mum did tours in Cooktown in when we were kids, the bus followed a long straight highway past massive wind generators and local jails it seemed  to be without so much as a turn for at least an hour and a half. Would you believe it – husband thought this country also looked like Julia Creek. Julia Creek isnt sounding that unique anymore is it?

Anyway checked in to our hotel and, to be honest, we were glad we didnt have all three nights reserved. We immediately set about finding something a little more comfortable and after finding a nice little place just down the road to move into tomorrow, we found a dive shop to make some reservations and a pizza joint for dinner and went back to our not so good room to sleep.

Today was a little brighter – there are two lovely girls at reception and we managed to get into our room almost as soon as we had checked out of the other one. On the down side, for siesta this afternoon it sounded like mum and dad had left the kids to create havoc in the room next door. I called downstairs and the noise soon abated! Dont mess with me little Julio! Perhaps he was sent to one of those lovely prison farms we passed on the way here from Trelew. We never saw him again!

So what do I miss about Chile? The fact that cars actually stop when you are standing at a crossing, (whether you want to cross or not); in Magellenica the people smiled at us when we walk into the shops and one lady who served us something kindly gave me a penguin with a missing beak! I love that he is the underdog so he sits on my table each night keeping watch as we sleep; the fact that we have endured some of the most extreme weather and made some great friends whom we hope to see again soon also made it a little hard to leave. During these extremes we still managed to sight see and hike (that includes the heat in Santiago and the horizontal sleet in Torres del Paine, and the freezing rain on the steep climb at Cape Horn). I also miss the language would you believe – suddenly we have left Glasgow and landed in the middle of Welsh Patagonia where the menus are different again! I think this time we could compare the language to Country Irish (with a mixture of Welsh) and we even went to a Welsh bar (unintentionally) last night. In addition to missing Chile I still miss my salad and vegetables from home. It seems that vegetables are seen as an unnecessary evil in these parts. I almost have to beg for some greenery on my plate!

You may recall that this stop in Puerto Madryn was necessary so that my beloved could scuba dive with sea lions. Personally, I was on again off again about snorfelling with them. That documentary we saw showing the orca’s teaching their young how to swim into the beach and eat the sea lions at Peninsular Valdes may well have had something to do with my trepidation. We were afterall on the South side of Peninsular Valdes! Then that mantra I had repeated played in my head one more time – and I remembered the regret I had after I didnt go on the ride in Disneyland and everyone said how much fun it was. So, orca or no orca, I signed myself up for a dip in the freezing cold Patagonian waters so I could snorfel with sea lions whilst my beloved blew bubbles from below. I would not regret sitting this one out!

We were up early which surprised me given the fact that we couldnt get our dinner last night before 10pm. After wandering aimlessly seeking an open restaurant I had purchased a nice little handmade leather bag at the night markets we had stumbled across (concerns were raised by husband that I may not have a need for another bag when I return home as I have so many – good grief has he learned nothing in our 23 years of marriage – one can never have too many bags (oh thats right thats meant to be shoes!) Oh well.

Anyway we made it down to breakfast in time to view a vast array of cakes and sugar coated cereals, hiding amongst the pancakes and sweetened fruit. We both managed a te negra con leche (black tea with milk) and I snuck in a sugar coated croissant. Off we headed along the shorefront on one of the most beautiful days we had struck. If we could have planned perfection we would have planned this day. So at the scuba shop I found myself a little hot once suited up in double layer 7mm wetsuits. We climbed a manmade sandwall and climbed into the boat for a trip across beautiful calm waters passing the comerant colonies and large caves in the fairly desolate looking coast line. Yep you guessed it, if Julia Creek was on the Ocean apparantly this is what it would look like! We were glad we hadnt bothered to go driving around here yesterday as we could see the lookout where all the tourists were taken to view the sea lions from the land.

Finally we dropped anchor and I found myself swimming amongst schools of sea lions. The trouble is they were better at holding their breath than I so they would pop their heads up and then go down very rapidly, I would tread water with my mask off wondering where the head was going to pop up again. To begin with while this is going on I can here the jaws music in the back of my mind and I could see the orcas in my imagination. As a few minutes went by I could see my husband below and I started to relax a little, the sea lions kept brushing past me rubbing my leg like a puppy dog would if I was sitting on the lounge. One finally decided to lay down in front of me and let me rub his belly. I do not regret this trip at all!

On the way back the divers had another stop at a shipwreck which was in reasonably shallow water. Rather than sit out and get bored I was offered another snorfel. This seemed all right but alone again I could hear the jaws music playing in my head – in addition to seeing Jeffrey Rush come swimming up in Pirates of the Carribean! So the nice young lady driving the boat said hold on, I’ll come with you it can be a bit scarey swimming around a wreck alone. She quickly grabbed a snorfel and mask and fins and jumped in and escorted me all around the circumference and over the top of the deeper parts of the wreck – so now I have not only snorfelled with sea lions I am also an experienced wreck snorfeller!

My beloved was thrilled, the sea lions loved him, they may have found him quite attractive I feel, they were biting his hand playfully and throwing somersaults in front of him as he cruised along below me. This was definitely a day to remember! Thank you Argentina!