A Travellerspoint blog

Chile's 10 musts

The long thin country has some amazing surprises

A chat to some lovely women heading off on their South American adventure within the next year, reminded me that I hadn't been updating my top 10 in each country. I think this has something to do with the fact that if I finish my top 10's I will be putting my journeys to bed. Having been 12 months since I first landed in Ushuaia, the last week has involved some self reflection and reminiscing of the good times. But alas the completion of my top 10's must be completed.

So....here are my top 10 tips for Chile.

1. Torres Del Paine. If you’ve been following the blog you would already know that this is one of my favourite places in the world. Down in Patagonia in the land of the extinct prehistoric milodon (a giant sloth like creature), the craggy peaks that are within the Parque Torres Del Paine will enchant you. I was lucky enough to visit the parque three times and each time I was amazed at the surrounding beauty. One of my favourites memories of this magical place is having a ringside seat when more than 8 condors circled above our truck after we had disturbed them feasting on a llama carcass. These magical birds in such numbers were a sight to behold.

2. The Carterra Austral road is simply breathtaking. Not an easy road to drive a truck on but the aquamarine lakes border by forested mountains and remoteness makes this road a must if you are travelling by car or motorbike.

3. If you are visiting Santiago you must experience a ‘Terra Moto’ aka an earthquake. What! I hear you scream. Never fear, although having experienced an actual earthquake in Chile the earthquake I am talking about is the local drink for Santiago which consists of a scoop of icecream in a glass of wine. What! I hear you scream again. All I can say is don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. This drink gets better as the ice cream melts so stick with it, but just beware....they can knock you for six and after the second you will be feeling much better but after the third you will be wondering what hit you.

4. Home of Chile’s rich and famous during the summer, Pucon is a beautiful town well worth of visit. Pucon is known for Villarica Volcano, one of the only snow covered, active volcanoes in the world that you can climb. The pain of the walk up this mountain will stay with me forever (as will the memories of blood filled socks due to some intense blisters). The best part of this trek was the tobogganing down which included delirious, uncontrollable laughter and some awesome spontaneous somersaulting. But beware...the tracks on the way down are skinny so those with big hips may get stuck. Just get the cute guide to jump in behind you and give you a push along...this always helps with customer relations.

5. I got the awesome opportunity to white water raft down the Futalafue river in the south of Chile. Class 5 rapids and beautiful scenery make this small town (max 1500 people) worth a visit.

6. While travelling in South America you will notice that almost every country has a ‘Valley of the moon’. Chile’s version is located just outside of San Pedro de Atacama; a small town located in the Atacama Desert in the north of Chile near the border of Bolivia. The sunsets here are to die for and San Pedro has some amazing bars and scenery and is THE place to buy copper jewellery straight from the artisans.

7. While in San Pedro you must take the opportunity to visit the observatory. Set up by a French expat with an interest in astronomy, this backyard observatory is simply amazing. The clearest skies in the world allow for some awesome viewing.

8. If you stay in Santiago I can highly recommend La Casa Roja. A great hostel with friendly staff, a pool out the back, two bars, cricket nets, free wi fi and the best kitchen in a hostel I’ve come across.

9. Back to Pucon and the best hot springs I visited in South America. Set in a natural environment they are open 23hours a day and give your muscles a chance to recuperate after the volcano climb. Start at the bottom of the hill (coolest pool) and work your way up to the hottest pool. Don’t be deterred by rain, it makes the visit even more decadent.

10. The Navimag ferry is a great way to travel through the Chilean Fjords. Rather than travel by road, the chance to travel by boat alongside an amazing national park with ice bergs a glacier and wildlife galore is an opportunity that is hard to say no to. The best part of the Navimag trip is the bingo and disco night but don’t forget to take the motion sickness pills.

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

Bolivia's Best - The top 10

A few tips from my forays into Bolivia - This one was hard to whittle down.

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I raved about Bolivia on my blog so here are my top 10 places to visit in Bolivia.

1. La Paz. The first time I visited this city I didn’t like it at all. It was too full on! Now I love it. You have to allow yourself at least a week in La Paz to not only acclimatise but also to immerse yourself in the place. Walking through the streets and getting caught up in the general trade of the markets made me realise that sometimes you just have to go with the flow. Oh and a couple of words of advice; take it easy, remember you are at an amazing altitude and don’t expect to find too many shops in La Paz. Everything you could ever want is sold in the street markets.

2. A bike ride down the World’s most dangerous road. You can look up the statistics telling you how many people die on this road every year and scare yourself out of doing this but if you do you will miss a trip highlight. If you take it easy, know and stick to your own abilities and go with a reputable company that has good bikes (Downhill Madness or Vertigo are the best) then you will be fine.

3. A trip to the Salt Flats via Uyuni. Nothing can prepare you for the sheer enormity and starkness of the salt flats. They have to be seen to be believed.

4. Visiting the salt flats comes only slightly above visiting Minuteman Pizza in Uyuni. The best pizza I tasted in South America, and believe me I tasted a lot. Chris and Suzy will look after you and don’t forget to have a piece of chocolate cake.....but be warned, the pizza dough runs about by about 8.30 and the chocolate cake goes even faster. The restaurant is through Tonito Hotel and unless you are staying at the hotel you will need to book.

5. Visit the Pampas outside Rurrenabaque for an amazing animal spotting experience. If you can’t make it deep into the Amazon then this is the place to swim with pink dolphins and go searching for anaconda...but pick your wellies carefully as wet feet on a four hour trek is not fun.

6. Once you return to Rurrenabaque you have to take advantage of the two for one drink offer at the Mosquito Bar....just watch the extra deep stormwater gutters along the streets on your walk home (I can tell you a story about a certain Irishman if you want an example of why).

7. Horse riding through the hills outside Tupiza. The town is nothing special, although the Pizza here is pretty good (no special recommendation as each restaurant in town has the same menu – the group I was with thought that maybe the town had one big kitchen which each restaurant used), but the scenery is amazing. Stunning cliffs and gorges and some crazy horse’s makes for an interesting ride.

8. A trip to Potosi should be included on your trip..if only to say you have visited the highest town in the world, which was also once the richest and to visit the bar/restaurant 4060 to have a Caprioska. If you are not suffering with the altitude you should also visit the silver mines. I was always too ill to do it (altitude knocks me around), but every pax I had do it was amazed.

9. A visit to Oliver’s Travels for a touch of home....especially if you are english or Irish. Say hi to Casper and Max for me while you are there and I can strongly recommend the beef and ale pie and a strawberry caprioska or five (I used to walk into this place and Cas wouldn’t even ask my order just deliver me a pie and SC while I chilled out and watched some football).

10. Sit in the Square in Sucre, get your shoes polished and eat some of the weird jelly drink and have a chat to some locals. The people of Bolivia are what made this country special for me. They were always so welcoming and always had a smile on their faces....well sometimes you had to smile at them first but I always got one back. So take the time to sit in a square or on a park bench and meet some of the locals.

Bolivia is often overlooked as a destination but I firmly believe it should be on everyones S.A. adventure itinerary.

Posted by Renae Jane 05:26 Archived in Bolivia Tagged top potosí 10 la_paz uyuni sucre rurrenebaque Comments (0)

10 things you must do in Peru

From the beach to the mountains this country has it all.

Top 10 things in Peru
1. The Inca Trail. Although I didn’t do the 4 day trek this time around my memories of the trek, the amazing Incan sites we saw along the way and Machu Pichu are so vivid that It returns to me like a flash of brilliance every time I think about it. The pain and cold of the trek does as well but it was all worth it in the end.

2. Diego’s chest in Mancora (Manager of the point hostel)....okay so you’re not likely to see this but still if you got the chance I would definitely recommend it.

3. The Sacred Valley tour is incredible. Visiting sacred incan sites during the day that starts in Cusco and ends in Ollytaytambo is really beautiful. The markets in Pisac will give you a chance to stock up on souvenirs (the llama blankets here are the best bet).

4. Dune bugging in Huacachina. This is one of my trip highlights. The rush of flying across some amazing sand dunes in a supped up dune buggy just before sunset was incredible. Heading up them at close to a 75 degree angle only to turn around and come back down again was like being on a rollercoaster. What an adrenalin rush. Oh and the sand boarding aspect of the trip was cool as well.

5. People watching from the steps of the plaza in Cusco. You’ll be approached by 10 people in the first 10 minutes wanting to sell you stuff or have a chat but if you can handle this then it is a great place to spend an hour or so....just be warned; the sun is strong at altitude and an exposed face burns very easily.

6. Pizza on the roof overlooking the plaza in Arequipa. A few days in the ‘other’ Peruvian capital will be just what the doctor ordered after Cusco and the sites, food and drink are worth a few days layover.

7. Lake Titikaka is amazing and is a must on any trip to Peru. You can stay on Amantani Island with a local family and experience what life is like here. Don’t forget to try the Muna tea. It tastes great and is recommended for altitude issues. A stop a Taquile Island on the way back to Puno will have you amongst some of the most beautiful textiles in South America. The weaving and knitting by both the men and women is so intricate I would be suprised if you didn’t buy anything.

8. A stopover in Lima is not complete without a visit to Miraflores. Great restaurants and shopping will have you feeling content for days.

9. Flying over the Nazca Lines is not only stomach turning but it is also intriguing. You can’t help but ask yourself how the lines were formed but more importantly why? Lots of theories are out there but that’s all they are...theories.

10. A great place to see the amazing Condor is Colca Canyon. The town of Chivay is located at the base of the Canyon and is a few hours drive from Arequipa. You’re not always guaranteed to see them but if you do you will be flabbergasted by the sheer size of these birds. Get up there as early as possible when the thermal currents are strongest (because these birds are so huge they can’t fly unless the currents are around) and get the camera at the ready.

Posted by Renae Jane 19:46 Archived in Peru Tagged top 10 living_abroad Comments (0)

Renae's Top 10 for Ecuador

Reliving the dream

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Since I've been home I have had lots of people ask me what were my favourite places and things to do while I was travelling and my response everytime has been 'It's too hard to pick only one thing'. So with that in mind I have created a list for my TOP 10 things to do in each country (even this was hard).

Ecuador is below and the rest will come in the following days.

Enjoy.

R

Top 10 things to do in Ecuador

1. Visit the Homero Ortega Panama Hat Factory in Cuenca – this company has a great museum and a great showroom with lots of traditional and contemporary styles. A back of house tour will see you viewing the makers dropping of their wares, the bleaching process and the shaping of the finished products you can buy of the shelf.

2. Take a Jungle trip to Tena. We stayed at the Shangri-la lodge and with treetop houses nestled into a cliff on the side of a hill overlook the Rio Napo, how can you stay anywhere else. The Hammock decks and cute guides just top it off.

3. Visit Otavalo . Located 3 hours from Quito this town is famous for it’s Saturday markets and the local people, the majority of who still dress traditionally. Cheap hammocks, rugs and beaded necklaces are the order of the day here.

4. Shop for leather and gorge on ice cream in Cuenca. Not only is Cuenca absolutely beautiful it also has great leather shops and the ice cream is pretty good too (trust me I’ve tried so many in South America I reckon you could mention a town to me and I could point out an ice cream shop).

5. Visit Mita Del Mundo, Latitude 0’00"00" Degrees – also known as the equator. If only for the photo opportunity and to say you were standing in both hemispheres at once.

6. Visit Rich and Bea’s place in Rio Verde. Pequenuo Paridisio was the only place that I visited on my first time around South America that I said I definitely wanted to come back to and wouldn’t you know it, some volcano right near them decided to start erupting, so needless to say I didn’t get my second visit. I can still remember Bea’s chocolate cake from the first time around...oh and there are some fun adventure activities to do there as well.

7. Stay longer than 2 weeks and go off the beaten track; you’ll be glad you did.

8. Head to the hot springs in Banos. An absolutely divine way to spend an afternoon.

9. Taste the local alcoholic beverage - warm sugarcane alcohol and canella (cinnamon). Sooooo yummy.

10. Have dinner at Siam in Quito; Thai food to die for...need I say more.

Trust me to have the last two things as alcohol and food. :)

P.S. I guess most people would say that visiting the Galapagos should be on here somewhere but I've never been so can't personally vouch for how amazing it is, although I've heard from other travellers it is not to be missed.

Posted by Renae Jane 17:17 Archived in Ecuador Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

The last weeks

9 months of cracking fun

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So as I walked down the carriageway to hop on my flight from B.A.’s international airport home, it hits me like a dull thud in the back of the head; this is it, no more South America for me....well at least for a little while. What? I still have Colombia, north and central Brazil to go.

The last 9 months have flown and as I sit on the plane writing this and looking back (as one inevitably does) I can’t help but smile, feel a little choked in the throat and a general rush of warmth spreads through me (good news considering it has been hovering between -1 and 8 degrees in B.A. for the past few days).

Before I get too sentimental about my amazing adventures I need to bring you up to date on the last few weeks. You may have been able to tell I was pretty busy by my lack of blogging. The trip from Lima to Quito is pretty jam packed with travelling and activities, so here goes.

Lima saw me watching a few games of the world cup on the big screen with at least 5,000 other people. Huaraz resulted in me getting groped in the street by a passerby; apparently my thigh was too good to resist (cue involuntary shuddering) while Hunchaco saw me run into an Israeli family (mum, dad, and 3 kids 8,6 & 4) that I had met in Chile on my first trip with Colin.

Then there was my crazy horse going from a gentle walk to a full gallop along the beach in Punta Sal (northern Peru) to the best torso of my trip (yes better than the Brazilian, rock climbing Taylor Lautner body double) and although I only got to touch this one through his clothes the honour goes to Diego, the Manager at the Point Hostel in Mancora.......Humana, Humana.

Next was Cuenca and our first foray into Ecuador...my favourite country. Cuenca is the home of the Panama hat, good leather and awesome ice cream. I had been reading ‘The Panama Hat Trail’; a book by an American dude with an interest in the hat named not for its point of origin but for the place that made it so popular. After reading the book I was really interested to see behind the scenes of a factory and that is what we got when we visited the Homera Ortega hat factory.

Reading about the process , seeing the incredibly fine weave of some of the hats and looking through their back of house gave me a new appreciation for the legend. Definitely worth a visit if you are ever in Cuenca , although you can buy online as well.

And then there was the jungle trip just outside Tena in Ecuador, which saw us climbing up the sheer face of waterfall’s holding on to just a rope while water was drenching us. This was followed by a trip to one of the local communities were the gringo’s (that was us) actually beat the locals at their own game, the world game, although I do think the 4 local kids we had on our side did help enormously.

My belief in the youth of today (cue motherly voice) was restored here when one of my pax, a 19 year old football (aka soccer) fan was so impressed with one local kid’s talent that he awarded him man of the match and gave him the shirt of his back....no so impressive until you understand that this was a Chelsea football team jersey. The smile on the kids face as he took the sweaty, dirty shirt back to show his friends was a treat.

The short ride into Quito was made onerous by the rain and the police rule that no heavy traffic enters the main town after 4pm. So after an hour and many diversions we were parked up and ready for the final stop. A day in Ollytaytambo visiting the markets and buying up followed by a quick stop off at the Equator and my last day at a tour leader was done and dusted.

I could go on and on about all of the things I haven’t included in the blog for days on end and I’m sure I’ll bore a lot of you when we catch up in the next few weeks. But in the meantime there are a few things words of advice about I can give you about South America:
1. You really can’t understand how amazing and beautiful the places I’ve mentioned are or how friendly the people are until you get there, so stop saying ‘i’d love to go there’ and just do it. Return flights direct to Buenos Aires average around $2,100 and once you get there buses and internal flights are reasonable so the continent is your oyster.
2. Take the time to sit in a Plaza and people watch. Cusco, Arequipa and Sucre are good options.
3. Only head to Patagonia in summer. It’s cold enough then let alone in any other season.
4. Set a budget and then add 15%. You’ll always find amazing things to buy and activities and things to do that are not mentioned in any guide books that are well worth doing.
5. Invest in a phrasebook or verb dictionary – it will help you immensely.
6. Immerse yourself in the culture and don’t hold back from involving yourself in festivals and street parties.
7. Don’t believe everything you hear about it not being safe. You do need to keep your wits about you and not flash the cash or jewels, but your biggest problem will probably be counterfeit money.
8. If you are usually a hotel kind of person, break out of the box and stay in a hostel. There are some great hostels and B & B’s around the place and they usually offer single or double rooms with a private bathroom. You meet some great people in hostels and you can share your travels stories and be inspired by theirs.
9. Visit the local fresh food markets. The quality of the fruit, veg, fish and meat is always superb.
10. Consider overlanding as an option. It’s a great way to travel and meet people. I know I’ve made lifelong friends out of it.

So to all those who I’ve travelled with and taken around this great place, thanks for the experiences, and for those of you reading this who have not yet visited South America, I hope I’ve given you enough of a taste to inspire a visit.

Oh and one last thing........
................. did you live vicariously? ;)

Renae
XXX
P.S. In the next few weeks I will be posting my ‘Top 10 things to do’ in each country series, so keep me in your favourite for a little while longer.

Posted by Renae Jane 16:44 Archived in Ecuador Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

The rest of Peru, Ecuador and coming home

8 months down 3 weeks to go

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So the rest of Peru was lots of fun....except of course the drunken night in Cusco where a Pax had to put me in a taxi and make sure I got home alright. ooopppsss. A slip up every now and again is okay right??? Let's just say I paid for it the next day until about 2pm.

Colca Canyon got us up close and personal with some condors. Those birds are amazing. The sheer size of them is incredible and it makes you realise why they need the thermal currents to fly. The best part of Chivay was the hot springs. After getting in at 6.30ish 3 pax and I headed off to the hot springs and we had the whole place to ourselves. The water was hot and the outside air was freezing leading to a really refreshing experience.
Arequipa was as beautiful as ever; cobbled streets, an amazing plaza and one of the best lamb loins I have ever eaten. Arequipa also saw me doing one of the biggest solo shopping expeditions of my overlanding career. Talk about over stacking a trolley. I couldn't have fitted one more thing in it if I tried.

Puerto Inka was fun as was and involved me making some crazy dips as an appetizer one night. I have now perfected caramelized onions with tomato and balsamic vinegar. By far the favourite of the night.
In Nazca I slept under the stars in a swag to try and escape a roommate with a cold and a snoring habit. But the highlight of this trip was the dune bugging in Huacachina. OMG. It was amazing. The thrill of going flat out over sand dunes, almost 70 degrees vertically up, followed by 70 degrees vertically down in a machine with a V8 chevy engine and one supped up driver. I must say no rollercoaster will come close to that baby.

Ballestas Island and the best Ceviche I have tasted was next followed by a final ride home into Lima.
So begins my next, and final trip for Kumuka in South America. 4 pax from lima to Quito.

Lima to the heights of Huaraz, where the air was brisk and the curry hot. The potholed road on the way in made for interesting driving, as did some road diversions which resulted in me following my nose to where I thought the hostel was. Huanchaco and some camping so that we could see some Incan ruins followed by a few fun days in the beach town of Mancora and a few more in Punta Sal.

Let's just say the body I was looking at in Mancora was amazing but the horse I was riding in Punta Sal was a real beast. Talk about trying to control the wild one. One minute we're walking down the beach, working ourselves up to a trot and the next I am galloping full speed down the beach, trying to pull up and stay on at the same time. Apparently the speed I was going at was scary to look at but what can you do when your horse has a mind of its own....hold on I found out. No wonder my thighs where hurting the next day. I haven't had to hold on like that in years.

So a short trip over the border and hey presto we're in Ecuador and talk about a change in habitat. Banana plantations and lush tropical forest had me thinking I was back in Brazil.

Our destination and my location at the moment is the UNESCO listed city of Cuenca. Home of the Panama hat and a great chocolate brownie. Yes for those of you who don't know the Panama hat is not actually made in Panama but is made in Ecuador and more specifically in the areas surrounding Cuenca and Guayaquil.

One more day here and hopefully I will find the right one before we head on to Tena and a trip into the Jungle and then finally into Quito, my final destination for Kumuka. A few days with my adopted family in Uruguay before a few more in B.A and then a 14 hour flight home.

Who's ready for a catch up with yours truly?

Posted by Renae Jane 19:54 Comments (0)

The last of La Paz and the start of Peru

Rurrenebaque, Lake Titicaca and a mini holiday in Cusco

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Right now I am sitting in 'The Real McCoy's' in Cusco trying to digest a breakfast of eggs, bacon, tomato, beans, toast and chips. Those of you who have been here will appreciate why I have had to sit here for 45 minutes after eating it. The best thing about sitting here is that I have no Pax with me....they're all off doing the Inca Trail or Lares Trek leaving me to my own devices for 4 days.

So what has been happening the past few weeks.... There was the trip to Rurrenebaque where we copped torrential rain even though it wasn't rainy season and I had to hire a jeep to take us the 12 hours back to La Paz. The coolest thing about this trip was when a squirrel monkey ran over my leg giving me a heartattack. He then turned around scratched his stomach and showed me his hand which was so human it was incredible. Even down to the tiny fingernails on his 2cm long hand.

Back from Rurrenebaque we met our new pax and started our journey north into Peru. First stop was Puno and Lake Titikaka. We did a two day one night adventure with a homestay in the middle. First we headedto the 'Floating islands' were we saw how the locals live. They basically survive on tourism and are only to happy to tell you about their lives in the hope that you will buy some of their handicrafts.....of course I did.
Second stop was Amantani Island where we stopped for the night with our host familes. We headed off to an Incatech (i.e. local dance) and tried to dance at their speed at nearly 4000m. Not at all easy.

Next morning we were woken up with muna tea (like mint but soooo much better) and we headed back onto the boat to go to Taquile Island. The textiles are what Taquile are famous for. The men spend their day knitting hats and other goods while the women tend the fields and children. A beautiful peaceful society so it seems.

Back to Puno and a night of dancing before making our way to Cusco.

Even though this place is crawling with tourists and every other second you are asked if you want a massage or are trying to be coerced into a restaraunt, it still has a really nice vibe.

The other day I spent an hour sitting on the steps of the cathedral looking at the square and the people passing by. In this time I was approached by about 1 people trying to sell their wears (paintings, jewellery, finger puppets). And well most of you know me and art so I walked away with 7 paintings of various sizes and I know most of them are exactly the same as what is being sold by the very next guy that comes along, but i only purchased if the people where willing to have a chat.

In the square this morning an old cuscenan lady approached me. Dubiously I ignored her at first but then she sat down and had a chat. With only three teeth in her head and lines on her face that would have gone from Cusco to Lima if stretched out she started asking me where I was from and started telling me about what was going on in the square (big police parade). I managed to pick up what she was saying (impossible 6 months ago) and she even taught me a few Cechua words (native Incan language). A lapse in conversation did see her bring out her wares to show me but after politely declining she did not insist and seemed happy to continue her chat with me.

So that brings me back to the now and starts me thinking about how soon it will be before I am home and chatting to you about my adventures of the last 7 months.

If anyone is interested as to how I came to be out here check out this story in the Mildura Post of Marika and Robbie. http://issuu.com/mweekly/docs/mwvol4no30/17?mode=embed&documentId=100603225528-0f45c59eaacb4616b52fa70abdd98c7b&layout=grey

till next time xx

Posted by Renae Jane 12:49 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

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