Monday, June 27, 2011

Battling into Argentina

When I got back to Santiago I intended to jump onto a bus pretty promptly and get into Argentina. In fact, because of my visa I needed to. But the weather had other ideas with the pass through the Andes being closed due to a snowstorm. This led to a couple more days spent in Santiago.

We went out in a big way again that night. The next day the crew was splitting up further so we were celebrating that. Of course, we ended up in a strip club. Later we strolled around the streets but there wasn’t heaps going down so all we managed to do was get lost. Eventually we got back to the hostel and caused a ruckus in the common room. The night ended basically when the sun came up.

Obviously, the next day was basically a write off. My visa had expired and in retrospect I should have got onto that then, but instead I was all about the prone position. When I finally got around to it the office had closed. The highpoint of the day was definitely tea – three of us cooked a good steak meal perfectly. The meat here is excellent and stupidly cheap.

I was up early the next day to get down to the relevant office to sort out my visa. We were there about 5 minutes after it opened but already the queue was probably 50 strong. This put me into a panic as I was urgently trying to get onto the bus by 10am. The eventual solution was to simply cut the queue and grab ahead of everyone else. Getting my visa renewed was actually smooth enough as I had my needs written out in Spanish and the guy waiting behind me spoke some English.

The bike is probably worth as much as the van.
Not at all ideal.
I made it back to the hostel in time to go with the boys to the bus station. I was pleased to be leaving Santiago, despite the hostel being great with very cool staff. I started battling again when I tried to get my bike onto the metro as I was firmly denied. A taxi was the solution, with my precious bike hanging impotently half out of the boot. The driver was a madman and got me there in record time. I was waiting to get a ticket when the boys arrived. More difficulties were to come my way as we couldn’t get on the same bus. Worse, many refused to take the bici along. So we split up and I caught a minibus with Dobri, with the Niner strapped rudely onto the roof.

At least the wait for customs was beautiful.  
The bus ride up into the Andes was stunning. The climb seems to go on endlessly, with one section containing something like 32 corners in a row. Scenic doesn’t so it any justice. Customs, however, was far less good. A wait of about three hours had to be endured due to a hugely inefficient setup. When we finally got to customs it took about 20 minutes but we had to wait a long time while th buses ahead of us got sorted. Scanning our bags was a joke; one of the guys on the bus collected some dineros off everyone and we bribed the guards with it to get straight through.

The pass through the Andes.
Just like that I was in Argentina but sadly I wasn’t in Mendoza. The rest of the trip seemed to go on forever. Our average speed must have been something like 50km/h and as it was getting dark there was nothing to see.  My happiness was huge when we finally rolled into Mendoza, 9 odd hours after leaving. We got to Hostel Lao (which came highly recommended) and met with the boys. Sadly, there were no beds available so it was off around the corner to a far inferior alternative for the night.  We were pretty buggered but went out in search of a feed, ending up at a place offering free pizzas after a monster walk. The food was good and we got hooked up not only a free pizza but also free tapas as well, a great result.

The main plaza of Mendoza by night.
So if I had to sum up how things are going for me at the moment, I would have to say battling. Travelling with a bike in South America is an incredible hassle, matched only by the folly of not even having basic Spanish under the belt. Everything is a trial. It’s definitely character building stuff. On the flipside though, I’ve seen some incredible stuff and met some incredible people. Hopefully there are some lifelong friends in there already. I think things will settle down once I get into the groove of living out of a backpack, spending long hours on the bus and having long struggles trying to make myself understood.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Santiago and Valpraiso

Life has changed gears a bit recently with the work at Desierto ending. I’ve gone from the peace of remote Patagonia to the struggles and joys of backpacking. It’s a bit of a lifestyle change but a good one. The other boys flights to NZ were cancelled due to the ash from the volcano so it’s been good to go large with them first up.

We flew into Santiago mid-afternoon after a flight delay down in Balmaceda. The first noticeable thing was temperatures in the double digits, the boys were thriving. It took a while to suss out flight transfers but it eventuated that everyone was going to be in Chile until at least the 22nd. It was a great result for the lads to get a holiday covered by insurance thrown in at the end there.

We went into town to our pre-booked hostel, Andes hostel. Here we met up with some of Dan’s friends from NZ and some of their mates, who all proved to be good sorts. The boys basically had one thing on their mind and it became clear pretty early that a serious drinking session was going down that night. Things definitely went large. My memory runs a bit hazy soon after dinner but curry, pisco, shirtlessness, and  a light-up dance floor with stage and strip pole definitely all made appearances. I also spent some time asleep in the hallway in the foetal position, on the wrong floor and outside the wrong room. So all in all a good night.

After getting a couple hours sleep we spent the morning struggling and sorting out a few things in town before heading out to Valparaiso for a few days. Everyone was fairly destroyed from the night before so we were pleased to have some folks experienced in travelling South America in the crew. The bus ride out was a fairly mellow couple of hours through a variety of terrain, mostly not quite desert but still looking fairly dusty.

Valparaiso felt a lot like Wellington. It is next to a big curving bay and has a lot of steep narrow streets. The feel of the town is a bit at the Bohemian end of the scale, with a lot of artsy type stuff going on. It also rained on us a fair bit. We found a pretty chilled out hostel up the hill with a nice deck overlooking the city called Hostal Acuarela. It was let down a bit by cold showers and patchy wifi, but the owners were good sorts.

Three nights were spent in Valparaiso. There wasn’t heaps going on in the town but it was a great one for walking around and relaxing during the day. Most of the buildings are covered in street art which was entertaining. We found a pretty good pizzeria which we spent a fair bit of time at also. The first night we were there was Friday so we were going for it again, the pizzeria owners invited us to a party which three of us went to after warming up at the hostel. It was in a sweet little bar but clearly patronised by regulars who weren’t that into three heavily intoxicated gringos showing up.

From here we went down to the waterfront where all the bars were and hit a reasonably sized underground club for a while. The Reggaeton was going hard so we cut a few shapes for a while before packing it in a bit before sunrise.

Saturday was based around eating, chilling and recovering enough to go hard for the night. Valpo is a world heritage sight because it has some oldschool elevators which were good for getting from the city centre up to the accommodation. We checked these out and just milled around taking in the sites. In the evening most of the boys went to nearby Vina Del Mar for a pub crawl and some time at the casino. I missed the boat on that one so started pregaming at the hostel with some Americans. The crew came back with 100 glowsticks in hand and we got pretty messy. Eventually the hostel owner called us all taxis and we went back to the strip. A three level club was found and we shredded the dancefloor for a few hours.

At some stage I tried to go home but lost everyone and spent a few hours completely lost in the neighbourhoods up in thre hills, which wasn’t the safest thing to be doing. Some locals took pity on me and eventually got me to a hostel which gave me a street map. I was bloody miles away from home base but with some helpful directions and a confusing taxi ride I made it home in one piece.
A church in Vina Del Mar

The next day we headed back out to Vina Del Mar. Lunch was Macca’s which probably wasn’t the call, everyone was pretty wiped out by the experience. Afterwards we tried to get to the Botanical gardens but it seemed like they were closed on Sundays so we couldn’t get in. Vina was an beautiful town with nice wide streets, lots of cool old buildings and a fair amount of plantlife around the place.

A nap was urgently required so we went back to the hostel and then to a café with wifi. For tea we found a upstairs bar with lots of groovy artwork on the walls, many with sexual connotations hidden in the pictures. We all smashed churrobrava (potentially not called that, but close); a pile of fries covered in meat, cheese, caramelised onions and egg. Delicious. Everyone was pretty battered so a relatively early one ws called for, although it was still after midnight.

We all slept in a  bit before heading out. Now I’m on the bus back to Santiago where I’ll sort out my bike and see off the boys tonight. From here I am heading towards wine country in Argentina before aiming for Buenos Aires for the weekend. I’ve only heard good things about Argentina so I’m pretty excited.

My tour of South America has started for real and I’m learning on my feet with some degree of success. The language barrier is a bit of a battle but nowhere near as imposing as I expected. It’s shocking how few words you can survive on and my Spanish vocabulary is growing slowly but steadily. Other than that it’s the little things that get you . I've been gringo taxed a few times (overcharged because I didn't speak the language and didn't know what it should have cost) but not extravagantly so. The money is hard work because of all the zeros, leading to some interesting mental conversions on the fly. Things also run on a pretty different timescale here, most stuff is open until 7 and tea tends to be at ten at the earliest. Another notable feature of South America is the mangy stray dogs which are everywhere. They’re harmless enough but annoying as they follow you around. We saw two eating a dead cat at one stage, when we yelled at them they looked at us with a very guilty look on their faces. You wouldn't see that at home.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Ten in ten

Ten photos. Ten word captions. Summing up my Patagonian time.

The waterfall. A visual daily treat. Huge, powerful, always impressive. 

Epic mission to the bottom of the waterfall, great times.

The lake. Not a bad view to wake up to.

Battled with the food sometimes but some meals were epic

Things got pretty cold sometimes, I didn't thrive on it. 

The crew was what made the trip awesome,  good sorts.

Boredom. Dogs. Vivids. Lost the plot, nearly all sent home.

The log ride, lots of time invested here. Sick feature.

The dogs were little troopers but completely uncontrollable at times.

Riding bikes is still the best, provided an amazing opportunity.