A Travellerspoint blog

Bolivia here I come....again

10 °C

Ahhh Bolivia. Where else can you see 6 grown men squashed into the cab of a front end loader trying to keep warm. Pity I couldn't get my camera out fast enough.

While trapsing through Potosi yesterday looking for some sandwhich fillings (yes my life is that exciting), I came across a mercardo (local market) selling the usual fruit,vegetbales, spices, pasta etc. Now I know I don't exactly look like a local but I actually felt like a circus freak the way they were all staring at me.

Feeling slightly out of place I just threw them a nervous smile and a casual 'Hola' and the sun hardened faces of the women selling their wares transformed when they smiled back. Granted you usually see more gum than teeth, but their eyes light up with a sparkle and they don't look half as scary.

The biggest suprise of this market was the womens 5 a side football (aka soccer) match happening on the bitumen out the back. The goalie with her purple football jersey, traditional padded skirts, stockings, sandles and beanie was a sight to behold. How these women run around the pitch with ease while I struggle to breath just walking, is beyond me.

But alas I have said goodbye to Potosi. The highest town in the world (4100m) and once the richest city in the Spanish empire is well worth a visit for anyone travelling through Bolivia.

Mendoza was where I had last left you and it is absolutely beautiful; just imagine the autumn colours of the leaves on the grapevines, the friendliness of the people, and then of course it would be remise of me not mention the food and wine. The lovely owners of the Monkey Hostel treated us like family, Luc even treated me to lunch by the water in the local park with his wife and daughter.

Since Mendoza I have also said goodbye to Salta and Tupiza and we have visited the Talampaya and Ishliguasto National Parks. The rock formations in these parks have to be seen to be believed. Perfectly circular balls of stone resting on the ground in a circular area while all around is cragged peaks is truly bizzare. The wind and water has been at work erroding this landscape making some weird an wonderful shapes.

Cafayate was next on the list. Our mornings ride from the top of the hill past a few wineries back to the town turned to the darkside soon after we started. A flat tyre for one of the pax saw me swapping my bike for theirs. Next another bike tyre went (the front), closely followed by the back tyre on the same bike and then the back front tyre on mine went as well. So while Alice and I were riding down the hill on the rims the others were flying past. All i can say is lucky it was downhill.

So while I didn't get to see the wineries on the bike tour, I did get to see some great scenery on our drive to Salta and I also saw some acts of bravery from 2 of my pax.

First some background. Just outside Salta is the largest zip line in the world. It has 9 lines stretching many kilometres back and forth across a canyon. We only did 4 lines one of which is the highest and longest; 200m above the river below and 600m long. While my 71 year old pax did it with ease the 2 pax petrified of heights had a more challenging time of it.

Full credit to both of them. When the blood drained out of their faces before we started I knew they would have to call on some guts. By the time we cracked the champagne at the end of the day we had seen some serious jelly legs. After having a panic attack at the top of the line and having to be bought over by the guide (cue jealous Renae as he was quite good looking and he had his legs wrapped around her) Alice took some deep breaths and went on to do the rest of the lines (3 more) all by herself and with her eyes open...woot, woot!

It always great when someone pushes themselves beyond their boundaries to do things they thought they couldn't. It just goes to show you just have to give things a try sometimes.

After Salta we headed to Tupiza were the wind could have blown the wool off the llamas. My cold gave me the perfect excuse for hiding indoors all day and sleeping.

So now I am in Uyuni were the pizzas at Minuteman are as good as ever. We are currently sharing the hotel with the cast and crew of the new Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid remake. Very cool. We keep seeing actors who we recognise but can't quite picture where from. I guess I'll just have to wait for it to come out.

Tomorrow we are off to La Paz and I promise next blog I won't go on about the city of markets, strawberry caprioskas and beef and ale pies.


Posted by Renae Jane 18:57 Archived in Bolivia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Now I remember why I love Argentina

Wine...Meat...and the Argentinian Men

Okay, Okay. From now on I promise I'll blog more often.

With that out of the way I will let you know what has happened over the past few weeks.

From La Paz we headed south. Through the towns of Arica, Iqueque and La Serena before landing in Santiago for two weeks. In Santiago we stayed at one of my favourite hostels - La Casa Roja, where I met some fantastic people who kept me company for the week. Apart from Mick going AWOL for a week (there was beer, women and a train ride in the wrong direction involved) the 'holiday' was great. I actually got to be a tourist in Santiago for a week. 1 earthquake, 1 easter weekend with no chocolates, 1 pub crawl and 1 PDM later we were on our way.

Four passengers heading north through Chile into Bolivia over two weeks was bound to be fun.
We headed north through the Atacama Desert. The driest Desert in the world. Here you have the chance to experience dirt, hills, dust, mines and dirt. Oh and then there is the experience of paying 400 pesos ($1 AUS) to use a toilet and wanting my money back at the end because it was absolutely disgusting.

We free camped in the desert and saw an amazing sunset. A great start to the evening was followed by trying to push the truck (it's 12.5 tonne) at 10pm at night after it had a flat battery (we pushed it about 2 metres, which was a pretty good effort). The next morning saw a PAX and myself standing on the Pan American Highway trying to flag down a passing motorist. The bikini nearly came out but luckily I thought I'd try my luck fully clothed. After having two trucks stop and tell us they would love to help but they would get stuck if they did, we had a lovely man pull over. After telling him in my bestest spanish that we had a flat battery, he told us to jump in and he took us to the truck. I felt like singing Hallelujha when he opened his tool box and he turned around and told us he was a mechanic. I felt like kissing him...no, no let me rephrase I felt like 'KISSING HIM'. Good old Lingo Lizardi was able to tow us to the hill where we were able to roll start the truck.

Back on the road and San Pedro de Atacama and the Altiplano crossing to Uyuni awaited. My memories os San Pedro are a little hazy. I think that has to do with a very drunk Christmas eve, a hungover Christmas day and a still slightly hungover boxing day in 2008-09. SO this time around I behaved myself.

Now, how to describe the Altiplano crossing in 50 words or less.....A crazy arse guide who thought pulling his pants down and letting the sulphur fumes from the mud pits flow around his knees, hips and crotch would help rid him of arthritis and osteoporosis; A passenger with altitude sickness; Bolivian road blocks resulted in us driving from 8.30pm - 3.30am across the altiplano (there are no roads or streetlights people) and arriving at our accomodation with the horn on fullblast and when that didn't rouse the caretaker our driver just broke into the hostel; an awesome day on the salt flats including me translating a sign from Spanish into English that said 'Do not pee on the Island, use the toilet otherwise you will be fined $10US' and I got to decide how much the fine would be (oh the power I felt); and arriving in Uyuni to find that the truck was not there because it was stuck at the Bolivian border due to the roadblocks.

Okay I couldn't do it (<50 words), didn't even try,:)

So 5 days with the same clothes, a toothbrush, toothpaste, deoderant and moisturiser makes for a 'what can you do' attitude. A few big nights at Joy Ride cafe in Sucre and everything felt just fine again.

After dropping the pax off in La Paz, Mick and I transited back to Santiago again. This time we only had 10 days so the schedule was tight. The best thing about this transit back was getting in to Santiago and back to La Casa Roja and getting welcomed like you are family. Hugs and kisses galore and a welcome back from all the staff is just what you need when the only constants you have in this job are your driver and the truck.

4 days at La Casa Roja and we found ourselves back on the road again.

This time we are headed from Santiago to La Pa, via Northern Argentina. At the moment I am in Mendoza, hence the title, and while out on the town the other night I didn't know where to look. So much eye candy and so little time. ;(

Mendoza is a beautiful place and the drive from Santiago was spectacular. Snow capped peaks and a switchback road involving 25 curves up a hill at 50+ degrees gradient makes for interesting driving. One wine tour and one tango show later we are headed out of here. Cinco media houra manuana (5.30am tomorrow) we are out of here on our way to Valle de la Luna and Talampaya N.P.

We are due to arrive in La Paz in 12 days, so I'm not sure when you will hear from me again but in the meantime I will leave you with a few more experiences (not all highlights) from the past weeks:
- I was serenaded by a drunk homeless man in Santiago.
- I was able to find jeans to fit me in Santiago (for me this was a major highlight).
- Getting my toiletries bag stolen from my room while in Santiago (WTF?).
- Finding some awesome dulce de leche with coconut here in Mendoza.
- Judging a mostauche growing competition.
- Hearing Marika (remember why I came over here in the first place?) and Robbie had a beautiful baby girl called Ruby Jane.
- Having a threeway conversation with my sisters via skype (finally realised we do all laugh the same) and seeing my nephew for the frist time in months.
- Remembering that I have awesome parents that are currently looing after a very sick dog.
- Remembering that life is too short after hearing word a girl that I had travelled with in 08-09 was killed by a drunk driver while on holiday in Spain (RIP Shanelle).
- Dancing in the dirt with no shoes on while at a Chilean BBQ in La Serena.

...I could keep going but then I'd be here all night and a 5.30 start awaits so keep safe and live the moments.
xxxx R

Posted by Renae Jane 19:25 Archived in Chile Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

The good times didn't just roll they rocked!

Rio to La Paz in 28 days

semi-overcast 19 °C

So i’m looking out the window of my hotel room and i see lights, colour, hustle and bustle on the streets; i hear people talking, music, church bells and taxi horns ; and I smell the unmistakable smells of traffic, roadside food and meat markets, urine, smoke and people. Ahhhh La Paz loved by many, hated by others and me...well i’m still undecided.

You see La Paz isn’t known for it’s architecture or beautiful plazas. It’s known for it’s humming vibe, it’s colour and women in bowler hats. The streets start pumping at 7am and don’t let up until 10pm at the earliest. The clubs start at 11pm and the taxi horns go all night long.

If you want a three course meal for the equivalent of U$ 1.25, cocaine for a pittance, a hand knitted pure alpaca jumper for 70U$ a llama foetus to hang in your new house for good luck or a toothbrush for .45c then La Paz is the place to get it.

So how did I end up in La Paz again? My last trip ran from Rio to La Paz. It went down the coast of Brazil before cutting across to the amazing Iguazu Falls where we then crossed into Argentina to visit the towns of San Ignacio and Salta. From here we headed into Bolivia where we visited Tupiza (for one more day then planned due to a protest shutting down the roads), Potosi, Uyuni, Rurrenebaque and finally La Paz.

A fitting place to end our tour. The colourfulness, sounds and smells of La Paz all remind me of the last 28 days where I made 11 new friends who all in the unique ways, had their own set of ‘colourfulness’. But then what can you expect from a tour with 10 Aussies and 1 Irishman? The fact that there was 8 men, 6 of who were single contributed to the smells, the long, booze filled drives contributed to the sounds (although I must say two of the blokes had amazing voices and the rest weren’t too bad either) and the girls, and the Sydney boys contributed to the colourfulness.

So instead of boring you with a blow-by-blow account of the past trip I will again, as has become my custom, list only the highlights (Let’s face it; it keeps you slightly interested and it means I don’t have to remember too much).

- Our first night in Paraty. Some mean Caprioskas courtesy of some vodka that the last pax left on the truck, followed by the raising of the Australian flag in the truck (now that both crew are Aussies it seemed only fitting) and a rousing rendition of Waltzing Matilda and an Aussie, Aussie, Aussie Oih, Oih, Oih chant set the mood of the trip. It was at this point that I knew we had an awesome bunch of pax. The night could have taken a turn for the worst when a crazy storm of Brisbane summer afternoon standards flooded our campsite saturating our pax bedding and causing me to run up the road through puddles to my favourite hostel of all time, Seria Do Mar, to beg for beds. Luckily they were able to put us up for the night and all was well. The pax didn’t seem to mind where they slept; I think the Caprioskas helped their state of mind.

- Without dwelling on Paraty too much (although I’m sure you all know by now that I love the place) my second highlight was on the second day when we headed out on an old schooner boat to have a boat party. A chance for the pax to get to know each other and for them to let their hair down a little. The hair letting down was helped along by the live band and free caprihinias (cachasa, a Brazillian rum is the base in this baby) all day. Yehar!

- Iguazu Falls is always amazing and this time was no disappointment. The boat trip under the falls had us all laughing hard and soaking wet. For those of you reading this who are planning to come to South America, your trip will not be complete without visiting these falls.

- Salta was a new town for me and guess what...I got to visit another hospital. Four trips and four hospital visits, that has to be a new overlanding record. We were whitewater rafting out here when the earthquake hit in Chile. Some pax felt it and were quite excited when i later told them the cause. Here is where we also flew 400m across a canyon while hanging roughly 200m in the air attached to a steel cable

- Salta also saw us celebrate a birthday by heading out to some clubs and watching a crazy arse Argentinean death metal band before heading across the road to dance our booties off in a techno club. Two extremes I know but what the hell.

- Horseriding in Tupiza was truly incredible. Meandering your way through countryside that felt like the wild west and where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid had spent their final months before being killed in a shootout 100km west of where we were, was unbelievable (to use one of our pax favourite expressions). The colours in the landscape and the rock formations were what movie sets are made of.

- The sunset on the salt flats near Uyuni was not only a highlight of this trip but of my time over here this year. Three hours spent with some fun people watching the reflections of the sunset on the flats, that at the moment are covered with water, only made it more intense. The fact that the boys also got our guide drunk on Absinthe also made it memorable.

- Swimming with pink dolphins in the pampas near Rurrenebaque was quite an experience. A word of warning for those doing this in the future, these dolphins are very playful and like to nibble (just gently) on feet, legs and even butt cheeks. This wouldn’t be half as scary if you could actually see them coming at you, but the fact that you can’t see your hands 3 inches below the water, makes this impossible.

I could keep going with memories of nights out dancing till the sweat was literally pouring off us or side splitting comments about how many times I saw these men in the jocks while trying to drag them out of bed 10 minutes before leaving time on a drive day (luckily they were all extremely easy on the eye). And then there are my memories of trying to get me and them on the plane to Rurrenebaque when we were fairly inebriated and had literally come out of the nightclub 1 hour before hopping in the taxi.

But then this wouldn’t be a blog but rather a short novel.

So from here I have said ciao to some great people. I’ve wished them safe travels and we’ve plans to keep in touch Good thing is I’ve stocked up enough hugs to last me until my next trip starts in four weeks time – Santiago to Lima, via La Paz.

Maybe next time i’ll understand this strange city a little bit more.


P.S. Ths time round the only tears I shed were when I was saying goodbye to them all.

Posted by Renae Jane 11:03 Archived in Bolivia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Ahh... let the good times roll

Paraty antics

sunny 35 °C

I started writing this blog on the 12th of Feb while sitting in the bus station in Rio De Janerio at 10.30pm while waiting for my bus, due to leave at 9.30pm and sitting around me are people waiting for their bus which was due at 8.15. AWESOME! Welcome to Carnival weekend – where every local leaves town and the tourists take over.
So how did I end up there? Well despite still being on holidays I was asked to cover for a sick tour leader and take his pax into Rio. So after leaving Paraty at 11.00am and getting to Rio at 4.00, I’d been at the bus station since 6.30. I did have a ‘helpful ‘taxi driver offer to come inside and help me buy a ticket.. if I paid him of course....ppfftt - I don’t think so. The thing is I was in Rio the day before taking another group in on our truck as theirs was broken. So two days and two Parary to Rio return trips.

I finally boarded the bus at midnight and got in to Paraty at 4.15am. I walked down to our campsite completely ready to crash the instant my head hit the pillow. Thing was when I walked in to our campsite I could not find my tent or either truck....WTF! I walked to another campsite; still no truck. Luckily the door was open to the hostel Col and I had been staying in for the past few weeks, Siera Do Mar, so I let myself in and slept in their lounge. I managed a few minutes shut eye among the noise of mosquitoes flying around me. Have you ever noticed how they sound like F1 11’s when in swarms? After breakfast at the hostel I got given a note Col had left me showing me where they had moved to so after nearly 12 hours I finally got a shower and changed out of very stinky clothes.

Anyway, let’s get to more exciting stuff....the week prior the bus station incident and also the past few days and my new group. First the week prior.

The previously mentioned camp ground with the missing trucks, was in a spectacular location. Right on the water. The mornings produced the most amazing pink/purple and orange sunrises and the great things was I didn’t even have to leave my tent to appreciate them. I did get woken up by the noise of ripping grass one night. Turned out to be one of the five horses at the campsite having a 3am snack. The best thing about the campsite was the outdoor shower. Surrounded by palms, gingers and bromeliads, I could have been in the jungle anywhere, except I was showering in my togs because I didn’t want to give the 5 young workmen on the property permanent eye damage.
But alas enough about the campsite there are plenty more highlights to mention.

One of the best – being an impromptu bar wench for the night. Paraty saw roughly 300 overland pax come off 10 trucks in the few days before carnival and all of them seemed to converge on the hostel Siera Do Mar on Tuesday night...as did one of the most amazing storms I have ever seen. Not quite as bad as the Concordia incident but close. So while Col and I are helping the staff baton down the hatches, people are trying to eat pizza and drink beer while rain is leaking through the coconut and palm husk roof, while bits of it are falling in their drinks. After all the commotion as over I headed to the bar to grab a drink and saw Lua (my cocktail queen) shaking her arm off with the one cocktail shaker the bar owns (what the!) So without further ado I jumped behind the bar. What a blast! Lua was still kicking it with the cocktails while I got the knack of taking the tops of 5 tallies in under 10 seconds! I only broke one glass and I can now chop limes like I make caprihinias for a living.

After dragging myself home at 2am after 3 steady hours behind the bar I slept like a baby and feel part of the Siera Do Mar family...I even have the shirt to prove it. I rocked in to the hostel the next morning and took up my usual corner so I could log on and do some work. I hardly got a chance to sit down before I found myself on the back of Nico’s motorbike heading off on a party boat for the day. Nico is SDM’s owner who is hummana, hummana, pity his girlfriend is gorgeous too. The party boat was a great day; free caprihinias all day, great BBQ lunch and cruising around the islands off Paraty in an old schooner boat. Hard to take really. It is funny though that you don’t realise how drunk you are until you hop onto land again and try to walk. I guess the rocking of the boat disguises the rocking you are doing to stay upright.

I was not as drunk as Col on Carnival Saturday. The boys at the campsite (the new one I couldn’t find at 4.30 in the morning) started pouring him massive shots of cachasa (Brazilian sprit made from sugarcane) at 11.30 in the morning. By the time we walked, or in Col’s case skipped, up the road at 4.00 for the mud festival, he was sloshed. So what is the mud festival I hear you ask? The thing to do in Paraty on Carnival Saturday is cover yourself head to toe in mud and dance like a crazy person. Let me tell you I have never seen so much mud covering people’s bodies before. The ycovered dogs and horses and rode them through the streets, the horses that is. They threw it at each other and rolled around like wallowing pigs. I’ve posted some photos so you can get the idea.
There is a spot along the beach that becomes like quicksand when the tide goes out; this is the mud pit of choice. I didn’t head into this baby, preferring to take photos instead but I did cover myself in mud (not the face) and dance and drink like everyone else.

After a few hours we were all cleaned up, col was passed out and all the creatures of the deep had returned to normal.
A few days later we headed into Rio. We were able to get tickets to the Sambadrome (2 years in a row; I still can’t believe it) and see some great floats, dancing and drumming and I met some more of the overland crew family.
So onto the latest bunch of pax. 10 Aussies, 1 Irish. 2 couples, 1 single girl and 6 single blokes all between the ages of 32 and 21. So far we have had a really great time and I’ve heard enough crude sentences to last me quite a while. There’s been plenty of bonding starting with an Aussie flag raising ceremony in the the truck where they spontaneously burst into Waltzing Matilda and an Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oie, oie, oie chant was yelled. This was followed by two rounds of Caprioskas (i.e. 2 litres of Vodka) where we soon learnt Dave, or Irish as he has come to be known, can’t handle spirits and I was voted the designated caprioska maker from here on in.

While we were downing the caprioskas and getting dinner started another massive storm rolled in (seeing any pattern people???). This is when I found out that every one of the tents on Matecito leaks. DOUBLE AWESOME! Now I know I can be a hard arse sometimes but I was not going to make my pax sleep in wet sleeping bags in puddles in their tents on their first night camping (for some it was their first ever experience with camping) so a quick run up to Siera Do Mar and word with Nico saw me get dry beds for everyone. YEAH!

So now after 2 very long drive days we are in Foz Do Iguaçu – gateway to Iguaçu Falls. For those who don’t know Iguaçu Falls is on the border between Brazil and Argentina and has 275 falls stretching over 2.7km with the longest drop being 85m. The pax are out investigating the Brazilian side today, giving me some peace and quiet and a chance to catch up on accounts....yeah!

The next few weeks will see us visit San Ignacio and Salta in Argentina, before we cross into Bolivia and explore Potosi, Sucre, the Salt flats outside Uyuni and then make our way towards La Paz and a trip to the jungle of Rurrunebaque (if the rain holds out). I’m sure there’ll be tonnes of fun and I’ll try to keep you up to date. But until next time, enjoy whatever you are doing where ever you are.

Posted by Renae Jane 11:52 Archived in Brazil Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Kicking back in Paraty

The good life...

sunny 36 °C

Hola to all from Paraty. A quaint little town roughly 4 hours south of Rio de Janerio. It was first established as a port town and all the gold from the surrounding hill sides was sent via boat from here back to Portugal. The streets are built in the typical Portuguese style – rough cobblestones that mean you must watch were you step each time for fear over going A over T and all draining to the middle rather than each side. At high tide the streets closest to the port often have water inching its way up the middle of the street to the centre of town.

The buildings in the old town are all whitewashed with different coloured doorways and window sills and no cars are allowed up these streets making it safe to wander down them, except of course for the cobblestones of death.
We are staying at a nice hostel around 20 minutes walk from town. I know this sounds really far away but if it wasn’t so hot you could walk this in 10. Seriously, I have never sweated so much in my life. Col and I had to speed walk to town to catch the bus the other day and by the time we got there I was wet through. So much so that the locals were staring. I literally had sweat dripping off the end of my nose and my undies were wet through. For those of you who have done Bikram Yoga, imagine this but 10 times worse and all the time!

The beach is literally 20 meters from the hostel door which is great...but the water here averages 1-1.4 metres deep at high tide and the bottom is muddy, meaning the water is not cool and refreshing but hot and like a bath unless you swim first thing in the morning. It really was quite funny when we went swimming the other day and we were out about 400m when we stood up and looked around and the water was only just above our knees. It was then that we decided to head to Trindade the next day; a surf beach about 30 minutes away. We’ve also visited a waterfall about 10 minutes away by bus. Not so exciting except for the fact that the locals ‘surf’ down a massive rock and land in a pool at the bottom that is no more than 1.5 deep and 10 X 2 wide. I slid down on my butt and was petrified the whole way. While the locals and sliding down on their feet and doing tricks on the way down. One guy from the hostel that we were with fell while practicing to slide and split his chin open...6 stiches later he will not forget that visit in a hurry.

Anyway we are here for another two weeks and then I join with another driver, Mick (an Australian who is only new to overlanding) and we run from Rio to La Paz. I will get to explore some places I haven’t been before; Salta, Tupiza, Runnebaque so that should be good. After this who knows....

But I’m sure you are all wondering how the last trip went....let me take this opportunity to paint some pictures for you. After leaving B.A. we headed across the Rio La Plata (the Silver River) to Montevideo in Uruguay. Sounds like a pretty easy journey except for the fact that I had more than half of the passengers with hangovers. Not good when you are trying to get them onto a ferry in limited time at 7.30am with a border crossing and customs to deal with. I think the alcohol leaching out of some of their skins made it easier as customs didn’t want to deal with the stench.
In Montevideo I spent the day chilling out i.e. doing laundry (mine and some passengers) and paperwork with what has become my ‘family in South America’; Gabs, Claire and Mateo.

From Montevideo we headed to Salto hot springs. Sounds lovely and relaxing right...hot springs for tired, aching muscles that have not seen a decent bed in 2 months. It was nice, except for the fact that the air temperature was close to 30 degrees before we even hoped in the water.

But another day and another border. The road from Salta led to a campsite over the border in Argentina and a town called Concordia. A campsite by the river, a nice meal including fruit salad made by a 23 year old who had never made fruit salad before (what the??) toads the size of dinner plates (no exaggerating here, imagine the one we have seen the pictures of in Kakadu and then double it), everything was peachy......until 4.30am. I should have previously explained that on this trip we had 8 pax; 2 women (the girls) and 6 men. The girls had been with us from Santiago and were my type of Chicas i.e. not princesses and ready to tell people how it is. It was so hot that they decide to camp without a fly on their tent that night. I had trouble sleeping that night and had woken up multiple times in a pool of sweat. It got to 4.30 and I was wide awake keeping an eye on some lightening in the distance...well that is until I awoke at 6.30 to a clap of thunder and driving rain hitting my head (afore mentioned pools of sweat lead me to open the window above my head in the hope that I would be cooler). 10 minutes later the rain had stopped but the stoves, tables, seats and cleaning gear (which we had left out the previous night) were now all very wet.

Well I was awake now and set about getting breakfast ready. 3 of the men had risen an
d were pottering around (the way Irish men tend to do) when the heavens opened with not only driving rain but wind that would have made Titan quiver in his boots. OMG! Next thing I hear the girls screaming in their tent (they had woken to put on the fly at around the 4.30 mark when there was lightening in the sky). Imagine my surprise to see their hands and feet holding the tent off them so they don’t suffocate while the back of the tent where they are not sitting has been ripped out of the ground and is approximately 2 feet off the ground. So while 4 men (3 pax and Col) are nice and dry inside the truck I am soaked through trying to calm the girls down and hold their tent, by the poles, off them so that they can get their gear together and get the hell out of there. I now know what it feels like to be hit by a wire brush as that is what the rain felt like as it was trying to pierce holes in my skin between my shorts and where my shirt had ridden up my back. One word came to mind....VARIETY.

For those of you who know me you will remember that when I am scared or nervous I tend to laugh (Kym knows what I’m on about). Well let me tell you there was much laughing that morning. Packing up camp in gale force winds, driving rain and a foot of mud/water on the banks of a rising river is certainly a new experience. But we lived to tell the tale and situations like that certainly show the true colours of people and separate the men from the boys so to speak.

But alas wet and flustered we headed on to the Jesuit Ruins in the state of Missiones in Argentina then on to Puerto Iguazu – the town on the Argentinean side of Iguazu Falls. A lovely camp ground, a day to myself (Pax and Col had gone to the falls). I felt the hand of God had intervened when right next to the internet cafe there was a legitimate massage salon. Fate I hear you say? That is exactly what I thought. I headed into the salon to be greeted by a pimply faced man of 17/18 (let’s call him manchild) who directed me into a room and told me to undress to my knickers. EEEKKK. Anyway by the end of the hour I was ready to take manchild home, lock him in a cupboard and have him only see the light of day in order for him to please me...with a therapeutic massage of course! Aaahhh bliss.

Onto Brazil we went. Foz de Iguazu to be exact....ahh the memories. This time they include a trip to the hospital for a pax to get an antihistamine injection to combat an allergic reaction that had resulted in a hideous rash and swollen lips and nose.

Bonito was the next town in our tour. A magnificent oasis with the clearest freshwater rivers you can imagine. Snorkelling through these is hard to take...NOT. The guys at this hostel were awesome and the chicken burgers have got to be the best I have tasted in South America. But not to be outdone the food in the Pantanal was also awesome.

The Pantanal is the biggest wetland in the world and cover portions of Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay. It is the natural habitat for the Anaconda, Caiman and Capybara (the world largest rodent and also the cutest). It is the wet season and we drove through some cracker storms on the way to our transfer point. The wet season also means that the Pantaneros (the local name for cowboys in the Pantanal) are moving the cattle along the roadways to higher ground. While waiting to make our way through one herd a Pantanero offered me some of his breakfast (rice and beans). After politely declining we continued on.

All of this water flows into the Pantanal and we got the opportunity to see this in action.
We went horseriding and ended up having to take the horses through 2-3 foot of water that earlier in the day our guide said, was not there. The wet season in the Pantanal also means swarms of mosquitoes. Imagine, we are driving along looking at the wildlife and close to 50 mosquitoes are crazily trying to keep up with the jeep (man they are fast). Each time we stop they catch up with us and bite the bejesus out of us. It is quite funny watching grown men dance around the jeep to try and keep them from landing on them.

But the Pantanal holds fond memories for me; the pair of endangered Azul Macaws flying above us, the toucans nesting in the tree just near the pool, the baby wild pig no more than a month old following the staff around waiting to be fed, the armadillo that dug a hole that you could lose yourself in right outside our door, the pair of giant anteaters wandering the plains, the howler monkeys and coati we took by surprise, the green iguana sunning itself on the bank of the river, the different species of birds and insects and the caiman that was no more than 1 meter away from us at all times while we were fishing for piranha for dinner. The Pantanal is an amazing place.
Campo Grande however is not. It is a stopover on our way to the bright lights, the rhythmic beats, the bouquet of smells (good and bad) and the heat of Rio de Janerio. This 4 day drive via Paraty, is not exciting except for the fact that this time I fell asleep and Col missed the turn off. This lead us on a whole new route ,hat was not noted in the driver notes and resulted in us getting lost in a large town, the name of which I have purged from my memory for all time.

But alas we made our way to Rio...the city the Peter Allen made famous for all Australians N.B. no one else except Australians know this song. This in my mind is a tragedy that we should all be working towards changing.
The ‘kids’ were farewelled and we turned around and headed back to Paraty to begin some much needed rest.
The last few months have taught me an incredible amount about human behaviour and relationships; good and bad. I think I could probably right a book about it by the time I get back. But alas when will that be? I’ll keep you all posted.

Posted by Renae Jane 17:54 Archived in Brazil Tagged backpacking Comments (1)

New Year at the end of the world

Forgive me for I have sinned

overcast 12 °C

Happy New Year! I hope you are all not suffering a hangover like mine. The thing is Ushuaia was incredibly tame for new years. I think the lack of entertainment and dancing actually resulted in more drinking and mixing of drinks eventually leading to a massive headache. But anyway enough about today...let me give you an update on the past couple of weeks.

Firstly friends forgive me for my sins...I have not blogged for nearly a month. Apologies for not keeping you all in the loop. My excuse...the lack of internet connection in Patagonia and the speed at which the internet, when connected, works – we’re talking Cliffy Young! But alas I now have a speedy connection.

So now the last 3 weeks..... I’ll keep it to highlights, otherwise you’ll be reading this all day (I hope you'll be able to pick out the extra secial ones out of these hung-over ramblings of mine).

Pucon was a disaster, no volcano climb due to weather, disgruntled pax (passengers), a visit to the best hot springs that I think I’ve been to in South America, dinner at midnight due to truck breakdown and having a homesick moment while doing the dishes by myself at 1.30 in the morning .

Bariloche thankfully was much better. Camping on the lake, a great BBQ that I did not have to do anything for except remind the cooks 2 minutes before we were about to eat, that the Chorizos had not gone on yet...and they think the Guide does nothing. I spent one of these days horse riding through the Patagonian countryside. FYI, this was my second time on a horse and I’ve now decided that trotting is not at all comfortable however getting up to a canter is much easier and gets the adrenalin pumping enough for me to feel exhilarated without being petrified.

From Bariloche we drove through some beautiful countryside to a campsite in Frutillar. What a crazy impromptu night that was! Another BBQ, a beautiful sunset view of a volcano, 2 pax (husband and wife) getting drunk, having a fight and one running away at midnight. Of course this was all relayed to me when the pax that were still awake jumped on the truck and woke me up to tell me that we needed to find him otherwise he was going to die of hyperthermia....my response....he’s from Adelaide, he’ll be back in a little while. The next morning revealed that the campsite manager had driven the wife around town for 30 minutes trying to find him only to get back and find he had crawled in to someone else’s tent to sleep.

Ahhh the memories I will have of overlanding.

The Navimag was next. This time around we left from Puerto Montt. A massive port town that has increased its population three fold in the past 10 years. I did pick up some beautiful scarfs for U$4 each. The Navimag was much busier than last time with about 160pax (was only 80 odd last time). The same routine ensued: sleeping, eating, drinking, reading (The Book Thief..a great book) and working. The standout was the party/ bingo night. I ended the night with the nickname ‘snake hips’ due to my abilities on the dance floor (heads up for those reading this that have a decent set of hips on you...latin american men dig the hip shaking). I now know how to salsa better than before due to the kindness of a Chilean. Ahh ..the memories.

Torres Del Paine was next; one of my favourite places in South America. Some memories from this time around (in no particular order);
• Having more than 8 condors riding the thermals above the truck at distances between 20 and 200 metres away (look out for the photos coming your way soon). Not even Col who has been driving over here for 2 years and is a bird freak, has seen that many together and that close to the truck before.
• Listening to 80km/h winds buffet the truck in the middle of the night and wondering how the pax where coping in their tents.
• Going for a drink at the Explorer Hotel (it’s always a highlight).
• Yelling at a pax on Christmas Eve after he told me he hadn’t had enough food and felt like he was in a concentration camp even though he was supposed to be doing the W walk and therefore had not been catered for with camp food. There’s only so much you can do with tinned food.
• Subsequently sitting on a hill top in winds about 50km/h having tears ripped from my face as fast as I could shed them. Those of you who know me well enough, know that when I get angry I cry and then feel crap about the fact that my emotions get the better of me. At least it was cathartic.
• Having our guide, Sebastian, wheel a whole lamb towards us on Christmas Eve (it was in a wheel barrow and not brought in on a lead which would not have surprised me). The lamb was so fresh that there was still some poo pellets in the bag that it came in.
• Eating before mentioned lamb until we were all stuffed to the gills. Does anyone have any idea how much meat is on a lamb? Let me tell you even the guy who was complaining about not having enough food, had to eat his words after this.

El Chalten was next. A question for you all: have you seen what Jacob looks like with his shirt off in the ‘New Moon’ movie? The abs???? I got to see abs better on a Brazilian rock climber . I know ....too much information for mum and dad, but some things just need to be shared. For those who have never been to a town that is known as a mecca for rock climbers, there are at least 5 men for every woman. In this case El Chalten was not a favourite of the boys on the trip who wanted to pick up.

El Calafate was the same as usual but this time around I got to see the local hospital. Previously mentioned pax who had felt deprived of food fell out of the truck when at a photo stop, severely cutting his hand. Luckily we have two doctors on board who cleaned it up on the road but it needed stiches so off we went to the hospital.

So this leads us to Ushuaia and Los Comaranes hostel where I am currently sitting.

From here we head north to Buenos Aries and warmer weather (thank God). 4 really long drive days with a rest at Puerto Madryn on the way. The memories of Puerto Madryn will surely come back thick and fast once I am there (involuntary shudder now occurring).

I hope you all have had memorable Christmas’ and New Years and that 2010 brings with it all that you make happen.

Posted by Renae Jane 16:14 Archived in Chile Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

Launch Sequence Commence for Trip 2

Hopefull this time round i'll have more of a clue about things.

sunny 21 °C

Since last I found the time to write a hell of a lot has happened. There has been tears, laughter, drinks followed by hangovers, a week and a half in Montevideo and spanish classes. So lets go back to the beginning....well not quite that far but at least back a couple of weeks.

The trip wound up in Santiago on the 24th of November and Col and I flew out to Montevideo on the 25th. For those who don't know Montevideo is the capital of Urugauy and is on the Rio La Plata. The widest river in the world and it runs between BA and Montevideo. It is quite a wierd experience for a queenslander to go swimming at the beach (the term is used very loosely here as there are little to no waves) and not come up with eyes stinging and nose running from the salt water. Being a river this is obviously fresh water and even the freshwater reeds growing by the side of the water are testament to this.

Montevideo is lovely and not just because the men in Urugauy are very attractive (a lot taller then then men on the rest of the continent which is a plus) and I could even be convinced to swap my Argentinian Polo Player for a Urugyaun Rugby Player. A few higlights from montevideo.....a man wearing a cravat that was not Matt Preston; riding my bike along the Rambla (esplanade) in Pocitos and nearlly falling off while gazing at the beautiful people running and riding past; heading to the fresh food markets and buying 200g of oilves for about 1$US and a kilo of beautiful strawberries for less than 2$US; having a 'Mez' moment and peddaling faster to try and keep up with the butt that had just passed me by while riding to spanish class; trying to convince my spanis teacher that there are more Australian bands worth listening to than just AC/DC and Midnight Oil (don't get me wrong, both great bands but what about Powderfinger, Jet, Empire of the Sun etc) and then of course there was spending time with my surrogate family Marika, Robbie, Gabs, Claire, Mateo and of course Colin.

And then of course there was my spanish course.....this is where the tears come in. I remember the boys at EnviroCom used to freak out and not know what to do when one of us girls had a teary moment. Well that is exactly how my spanish teacher felt when i spontaneously combusted into tears after his pacing round the room and yelling at me finally became too much. In my defense I was a little homesick, hormonal and I was still thinking about the beautiful people at Pocitos so I wasn't remembering my words as much as I should have been. So once I firmly told him (and no i didn't yell back) "i can't learn like this" he decided to change his approach to 'softly, softly' as he put it. Well he could have just done this in the first place. To his credit he did change his style and we went on to have a laugh and I actually learnt how to speak a little more spanish.

So now we are 12 hours out from meeting our next group. Trouble is we have a broken truck. That's right, Gaucho has decided it doesn't want to leave Santiago just yet. So we are not shipping out to Pucon until Friday at the earliest Saturday at the latest (I say with crossed fingers). At least we are staying at a really nice hostel; La Casa Roja. An old building that has been convereted into a hostel. It has a pool out the back, big grassy areas, a great kitchen and is owned by an Australian called Simon (the cricket nets out the back are a dead giveaway for this).

Well i'd best be off to make breakfast. For those of you who are craving photos I have put some up. Enjoy the warm Brissie weather and stay safe. I'll speak to you all soon.

Posted by Renae Jane 03:20 Archived in Chile Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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