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.