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Published: June 14th 2013
Hill climbing Victorian style
For some of you this is the first time you have been fortunate enough to read my words of blog wisdom (in my defence, most of you asked to receive this). Consider yourself luckily, my UK family and friends have been bored by this for years. For those that have travelled south America I expect you will not be reading anything new, but its my adventure so humour me here. Also, as my grandmothers, colleagues and dearest Ma and Pa are reading this you will have to wait for me to get back/ email me to hear about near death experiences involving guns or juicy gossip. No major ones to report yet (all is well Dad, no guns in sight). Will stop talking about guns.
So, it was a quick departure from Perth as I left work on Friday and headed to Sydney on Saturday for a weekend of buying last minute travel gear, i.e. all the clothes I have worn every day for the last two weeks and having a giggle with my old housemate Matt who was under strict instructions to keep me calm. Job well done mate (Jesus and I love you buddy).
The previous weeks concerns about how I would be travelling alone disappeared on the plane and the super nice Qantas people gave me three seats so I slept most of the way there. There was a moment of confusion when I forgot New Zealand existed and woke up expecting to see the ocean below me and instead saw a snow capped mountain range, but I remembered it there was eventually.
One of the advantages about flying in constant daylight is the incredible view of the Andews as I flew in Santiago. As the pilot casually told us to look out of the right hand side of the plane I groggily leapt up and knocked old people and toddlers aside to press my face to the glass for my first glimpse. And they are truly spectaular from the air, covered in snow. You can't help but have the film 'Alive' flash into head though.
Santiago is a westernised, cosmopolitian city, as more and more seem to be now. I wish when you were going somewhere for an adventure you could fly into some tiny village in whichever respective country you are in so you can start appreciating you are
somewhere new immediately. Like flying over the Whitsundays to get to Lizard island. In saying that, on the way out of the city I saw someone dressed as Elvis doing Tai chi on a roof so there are dichotomies everywhere.
My first challenge soon presented itself when I tried to get from the airport to my hostel, because I had not learnt the Spanish for 'ticket' and my head gestures were not working. 'Ticket' is now one of my ten most used words, along with 'write it down please' and a 'a glass, not a bottle'. Yes, the last ones are in the right order. I made that mistake on the second night.
I spent a couple of days learning about Santiagos history and attempting to beat jag lag. The first one was a lot more interesting than the second as I have to admit I was quite ignorant of just how much control Pinochet had during his reign and how feared the military were. The second one involved me sleeping for most of the second day.
Craving the sea I headed to ValParariso, an hour south of Santiago on the coast as I realised I would
Inca ruins in Argentina
not be seeing the sea again until Brasil. I saw more of the place than I bargained for, winding up into the poorer 'barrios' until the bus driver kicked me off at the end of the journey and I had to do it in reverse. Great view of the city though, looking down on the port's steep cobbled street and thinking about how handy it was being up high when I had just driven past the tsunami warning signs near the military base. I was quite alarmed by these, but I did watch 'The Impossible' on the plane about the tsunami in Thailand so I think I overreacting.
Valpo, as tthe locals call it, is the cultural capital of Chile and the narrow winding streets are rammed full of paintings and free expressions of speech without fear of retribution. And the ubiquitous street dogs who follow you around constantly, even into the Stock Exchange. I also experienced my second earthquake here, which are ridiculously common here, not surprisingly. I say 'experienced', I was asleep for this one. Does it count?
Then for one of the highlights so far, crossing the Andes into Argentina. They really are impressive. My
Quedabra, outside Cafayte
50k solo cycle in the Andes
photos are not. It really is hard to convey the sheer size and diversity of the Andes, without using a lot of cliches and you will get enough of those. Best experienced for yourself. I did get waaaay too excited after seeing my first cactus though. It really does go from postcard mountain scenery to the wild west and back.
I only had a vague idea of where I was heading so my 12 hour trip to Mendonza turned into a 29 hour trip to the Northwest of Argentina. As anyone who has been here knows, you can spend a lot of time on buses. I am on one of the decent long distance ones now at the moment, enjoying the scenery and trying to ignore the mild symptoms of altitude. Still got another 4000 feet before I head back down so I need to get used to it. The memories of struggling up Mount Kinabalu are being pushed aside.
I experience the Andes first hand when I hired a bike and cycled 50 km of the 'Quebrada de Cafayte' from the 'Garganta del Diablo' ('Devils throat'😉, winding my way past huge sandstone monoliths with the wind in
Quedabra, nr cafayte, Argentina
One of the many views from my rubbish push bike
my hair and avoiding the roadworks. It seems all the cool bits are being paved now. I hardly saw a soul except for the passing drivers and an angry dog with a mohican when I took a wrong turn down a dirt path to the owners shack. It makes you feel very small. The bike was rubbish though, it pretty much stopped if I stopped pedalling, even on the flat. Was very tiring. On the steep downhill bits however, I discovered the brakes were not what I expected. As in, there in all but a mere nod to the suggestion. Downhill bits were great fun. Will back to you on the other bits when the saddle sore wears off. I did nearly fall off when I was crusing back into pretty Cafayte past the vineyards, dreaming of the wine ice cream I was about to have an a frickin' great big hairy spider calmly crossed the road like it was at a zebra crossing. This was not a 'body the size of a plate' type spider and probably not as poisonous as half the ones in Oz but still, it stood out for me as I am petrified of them.
I have met some nice people on the way, tried some delicious local Chilean dishes with a couple of American guys in Valpo, got translation at some Inca ruins in Quillmes from a young French guy who looked like the Milky Bar kid, drank some vino in Cafayate on the rooftop balcony with a Kiwi and Dutch couple and enjoyed a lovely evening and a homecooked meal with some Argentinians in Salta last night. But the hostels are quiet at this time of year, which is both a blessing and a curse
Right, I need to go and store my bank cards in various bits of clothing/ orifices as I am about to walk across the Rio Vazillion into Bolivia.
Nic/ Nics x
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