Monday, March 31, 2014

Friends - Has & Steff

In Peru we met Has & Steff a couple from Wales, not England - Wales! ;) And for everyone who doesn't know were that is: Wales.
In the month we travelled together we survived the Inka Jungle Trail, met funny, unique and weird people, got drunk and suffered the day after, seen breathtaking nature in Bolivia, met Fernando (4 year old) a super cute boy with the biggest cheeks I've ever seen, and shared a lot of great memories!
At Santiago they took the plane to New Zealand, heading forward to Australia and Indonesia.
Thank you Has & Steff for this great time.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Books to read - Marching Powder: A True Story of Friendship, Cocaine, and South America's Strangest Jail

While in La Paz Has mentioned she wanted to have a look at the San Pedro prison, from the outside, as she had just read a book about it. Until a couple of years ago it was even possible to visit it! Even Lonely Planet mentioned it in his Todo section of La Paz. So of course I had to read it as well.

Marching Powder is the biography of Thomas McFadden, a british cocain trafficker which got caught and sent to San Pedro. He describes his time in this super corrupt prison complex. Where you have to buy or rent your own cell in one of the different sections which act as kind of neighbourhoods. Having its own little economy. With little tiendas and restaurants, run by inmates and their families which live with them!
Later on Thomas starts offering tours to backpackers by bribing some of the guards to allow non-family visitors. Some come for the stories but for many the cheap coke, produced in San Pedro itself, is the main attraction. Many of these visitors end up staying over night and he even got a tourist girlfriend which lived with him for a while!

Read more about it for example here, Mike's Bogota Blog

Friday, March 28, 2014

Buenos Aires (13.03.2014 - 20.03.2014)

For our week in Buenos Aires we rented a flat over AirBnB. We had a lovely apartment in the middle of the Palermo district, famous for its many little shops, boutiques, restaurants, bars and cafes. No crisis here as far I could tell from the prices!

As with every city trip we ended up walking quite some distances which my new 8$ shoes weren't really up to...

  • Strolled through the Sunday market in San Telmo, having everything from silly souvenirs to junk and antiques
  • Visited the prison museum about the different penal institutions in Argentina, imaging passing your sentence in the old days down in Ushuaia, brrrr!
  • Saw the huge Recoleta cemetery, but missed the grave of Eva Peron ;)
  • Watched the tango dancers in the street
  • Walked around Retiro
  • Spent hours shopping in Palermo, at least the shops here have comfy seats for waiting boyfriends!

Because we where running out of cash we decided to hop over to Uruguay before heading to the Iguazu waterfalls. So we boarded the ferry to Colonia del Sacramento and left Argentina behind us for now.

Over there!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Blue Market

Because of the financial situation in Argentina you can get a better exchange rate on the street than the official rate issued by the government. This so called blue market operates in a kind of grey area. Officially it isn't allowed but the police turns a blind eye to it. We've seen arbolitos (literally little trees) shouting for cambio (exchange) in front of policemen.
There are different websites and twitter accounts which inform about the daily blue rate, even local newspapers print it next to the official one!

All this started after the peso lost a lot of its value as a consequence of the poor economy. People being afraid of loosing their savings started frantically buying USD. This led the government to rationing the amount of dollars a person can obtain to prevent the drain of money "out of the country".
Lately the government tried to defuse the situation by allowing argentinians to have a bank account in dollars. For this account they can buy certain amount of dollars at the official rate but have to pay a 30% tax the moment they withdraw it (other people told me this tax expires after one year).

After our debacle in Venezuela we came prepared to Argentina. We had a fair amount of peso chileno and dollars to exchange.
As the golden times (at least for us foreigners where we would get twice the amount on the blue market) are over we ended up exchanging our money the tourist way on Calle Florida.
What we didn't know before is that you get better rates for higher denominations. Which means bills of 50 and 100 USD would fetch close to the price advertised. Everywhere else in the world it is a hassle to cash in bills higher than 20$ so we didn't bring any. We still got 10.50 per dollar when the price on twitter was at 10.90 and the official rate was at 7.90.
There are some misprinted new 100 Peso bills in circulation which certain places don't accept, so make sure you get old ones or know how to spot them!

PRO TIP: Bring big dollar bills to Argentina!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Wallpapers of the World - Walking the plank

Before boarding our sailing boat to Colombia we found these old planks.

Friday, March 21, 2014


All over Palermo are these abandoned cars which rust and rot.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Happy Birtday to me

If you wonder what we did last saturday ;)
Witnessed the premier of the latest music clip of INDICA.

Mendoza (10.03.2014 - 13.03.2014)

We passed the first day in Mendoza strolling around the city on its many tree lined avenues. Then we hurried home so we wouldn't miss the daily hostel happy hour free wine ;). All the travellers met in the backyard and we exchanged stories long into the night.

The next day we headed off (with a slight hangover) to visit two wineries and a olive oil factory. The first stop was quite a contrast to the wine yard we've visited in Chile. Multiple times bigger and everything is automated and industrialised. Our guide showed us every aspect of the production, from the delivery of the grapes, over the pressing and storage to the bottling and labelling. As we are right in the harvest season many trucks lined up to get weighted and deliver their cargo. Afterwards we got some lessons how to do a proper wine tasting: swirling, smelling, examine the tears on the glass, etc ;)
We got to try two of their wines and one of their champagne before our bus took us to the next destination.
The guide in the olive oil factory showed us all the equipment needed to press and filter the oil. Part of the tour then was to try their different oils and various dried fruits they have on sale. Melanie of course bought a huge bag of dried tomatoes ;)
Last stop for the day was at a much smaller winery again. It wasn't as pretty and not as friendly as the first one. We weren't allowed to take pictures of most of the places o_O
Back at the hostel they had a big argentinian asado ready and everybody was seated on one huge table enjoying the meat and wine! Thats what I've been looking forward to in all these months of pollo fritto con frijoles ;)

To get to Buenos Aires the other day we booked a night bus again. This time with Chevallier, whose bus was quite shabby and had no service at all...

37500l of wine!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Bariloche, Suiza Argentina (06.03.2014 - 09.03.2014)

Our bus took us up north again before heading east through the national park to the frontier. 
We had heard the expression Switzerland of Argentina before, but where still quite surprised to find a town with many wood and stone buildings bordering a nice lake surrounded by mountains and woods. The big surprise though where the many shops selling chocolate and the restaurants offering cheese fondue o_O 
You can also tell from the names of towns and streets that one or two Swiss citizen has left his mark. Nearby is the town of Colonia Suiza, with streets as Zürich or Canton Valais. 
Because of its touristy nature the prices where even higher than in Chile and the main street consist mainly of outdoor, chocolate or gift shops. 
Instead of booking an expensive tour we took the bus and headed to Parque Municipal Lla Llao. We strolled around the lakeside which remembered me a lot of Canada or the wilder parts of back home.
For the overnight bus ride up north we booked a cama-seat with CATA. We had comfy wide seat, including a hot meal with wine and champagne! 15 hours later we arrived relaxed in the Malbec paradise.

The main plaza

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Pucon & Puerto Montt (30.02.2014 - 06.03.2014)

It took us almost a whole day and three different busses to reach Pucon from Santa Cruz. This little town is famous for its many outdoor activities. You can go canyoning, river rafting, do a canopy tour, visit the different hot springs and of course do a lot of hiking. To relax from our bus journey we headed to visit the Pozones hot springs. They where nice but sitting in hot water when it is already hot weather is kind of pointless, you just sweat even more ;)

The next day we decided to do some hiking and ventured to the Santuario El Cañi. Having heard it would be steep we thought we where (mentally) prepared. But it took us 3 hours of steady climbing to reach the plateau with its lakes. It was nice to stroll beneath the huge trees, enjoying the lakes and having a rest before tackling the climb to the viewpoint. Almost an other hour of climbing was rewarded with an awesome view!
If you want to do this go as early as possible, I can't imagine how it would be to do this under a powerful midday sun!
The decent, thanks to my shot knees, was the more painful part in my opinion... I'm getting old!

From Pucon we headed further south to Puerto Montt. Here ships leave for Puerto Antes in Tierra del Fuego. We hoped to find a cheap last minute deal, as the summer and therefore the window was closing. Sadly the cheapest boat was still way out of budget, as where any trips down into the arctic from Ushuaia. Also we would have to get some serious trekking and winter gear, our sneakers aren't really made to wander around the end of the world ;).

So we sadly decided to head over to Bariloche in Argentina and postpone Patagonia for another day when we would be a bit better prepared...

Friday, March 7, 2014

Books to read - Panama Fever: The Epic Story of the Building of the Panama Canal

Having always had an interest in history and especially in scientific & engineering marvels I wanted to know more about the canal and its builders. So before reaching the canal I read the book by Matthew Parker telling the tale of this feat.

Panama Fever starts with the hopeless and desperate venture of the french Ferdinand de Lesseps in 1881. Having built the Suez Canal he tried to repeat this again at the Isthmus of Panama. Although the plan of a canal at sea level was not feasible Ferdinand clung to it until the near end when the company went bankrupt.
Later on the United States bought the remains of the company and with it the rights of building a canal through (then) Colombia. With support from the U.S. Panama declared independence and the construction could continue.
More then 33 years after turning the first sod the canal opened, using three set of locks and some artificial lakes to make the passage from Atlantic to Pacific possible.

The book follows the lives of the different people which worked, lived and not seldom died for this huge project to succeed. The Isthmus back then was one of the deadliest parts of the world: hot and humid with tropical diseases as yellow fever or malaria, land slides and the mighty Chagres river took then thousands of lives before the sicknesses where cured, swamps drained and the river dammed.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Weekend and Wine B&B, Santa Cruz
21 de Mayo 0317 con Avenida Las Toscas, Santa Cruz

Weekend and Wine is a five room bed & breakfast close to the main plaza. Every room is lovely decorated and offers everything for a pleasant stay. The breakfast is extensive, perfect if you plan to do some wine tasting in or around Santa Cruz.
The hosts are very friendly and helpful with every information to visit wine yards.

Breakfast for two

Laura Hartwig, Santa Cruz

If you like to visit a wine yard which is close to Santa Cruz, Laura Hartwig it is. This lovely family run company produces wine in the second generation and exports it all over the word. Nevertheless it could maintain its charm as a little wine yard.
The tour starts with a ride on horse and carriage trough the yard followed with a tour trough the production and the wine cellar. Rounded up with a wine tasting at the end.
This tour cost around 15USD.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Hostal Jacaranda, Valparaiso

Urriola 636, Cerro Alegre, Valparaiso

In Valparaiso you find a lot of very nice, mostly colonial hotels & hostels. An option which is also affordable is Hostal Jacaranda. It is based in two different buildings, a smaller house with a garden and the one in a colonial building newly renovated. Each room has a different color concept and is stylishly furnished. Both buildings have a kitchen you can use.
The area around the Hostel is a nice dynamic neighbourhood with lots of good bars, restaurants and little shops.

Our room

Fauna, Valparaiso
Paseo Dimalow 166, Calle Alegre, Valparaiso

Based in the old town in the hills you find Fauna, a bar/ restaurant/ hotel with one of the best views in town. The interior is of modern design with a lot of wood and metal.
The wine and menus are a bit pricier but very good. This is is definitely the place to have an afternoon drink and enjoy the beauty of Valparaiso.

Santiago & Santa Cruz (25.02.2014 - 29.02.2014)

In Santiago we visited the Plaza de Armas and had a look at its surrounding buildings. Strolled through the side streets and ended up in the fancier Bellavista district. Had some burger and beers and headed back to the little apartment we had rented with Has & Steff. Even went to the gym on the 25th floor with an awesome view! The pool was sadly too cold ;)
We met up again with Pim & Mark and ended up drinking till 2 in the morning and weren't the only ones having a good night out on a wednesday.
The next day we said goodbye to our welsh friends as we headed south and they would catch a flight to New Zealand two days later.
In Santa Cruz we stayed two nights to visit one of the many vineyards in the region. Together with an other visitor from Santiago we had a tour of the vines by horse cart. The lady explained the history behind the vineyard and the different grapes before heading to production facilities. We saw how the grapes get cleaned, crushed, filtered and then stored in oak barrels. Later the wine gets bottled and depending on demand a single lady labels all bottles by hand!
For the pricier wine this means to applying glue by hand to four labels and then attaching them so they are properly aligned. The rest have stickers for the front and back which have to be placed by hand as well. Because the wine yard is quite small and each country where they export to has different laws in terms of labelling it isn't feasible to buy/rent a machine.
Afterwards we could try the different wines they have on offer and ended up buying a bottle for later on ;)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Mistura, La Paz

Calle Santiago No.163

It is almost impossible to find beautiful shops in La Paz. Which makes you even more appreciate this boutique. The presentation and the assortment is inspiring especially in a city like la Paz.
They sell bolivian handcrafts (but in a modern way), alpaca cloths (also for children), accessories, natural skin care products, gourmet products, jewellery and beautiful hat's for a bargain. I still regtet i didn't buy one!

Greater Valparaiso (20.02.2014 - 24.02.2014)

Our night bus dropped us quite early in the morning in Valparaiso. Together with Has & Steff we took a cab to the hillside where our hostel was. Wanting to know a bit of the city we decided to join one of the free walking tours. But the two guides where soooo annoying (silly laughs, clapping hands like retards and speaking like we where babies...) we soon snook off. We passed the day by wandering around the streets by ourselves enjoying the graffitis and the many little shops.
To relax a bit we headed to Reñaca Beach the following day, but the water was cold with huge waves and currents so the life guards wouldn't let anybody in =/. The beach itself was covered in promotion stands, encouraging people in silly dances or just plain boredom (Samsung Electronics stand on the beach, o_O). Nevertheless entertaining/amusing ;)
The next day the City Down Hill Worldcup made a stop to host the Red Bull Cerro Abajo. By chance Pim, which we met a couple of years before while diving in Nusa Lembongan, was in Santiago for work and came over with a buddy to see the spectacle. We had a great time, wandered along the whole run and had some spectacular views. Later in the evening Pim, Mark, Melanie and I headed over to Viña del Mar, which was once the beach-get-away for wealthy merchants of Valparaiso. It is quite a contrast from the little winding streets covered in graffiti of Valparaiso to the big shiny hotels and condos of Viña.
Our last day we spent again wandering the many colourful streets and snapping pictures of the street art.