Dancing Over the Finish Line

So , like all good things, big adventures eventually come to an end. Stu and I are fast approaching the finish line of our fantastic adventure, but before we go, I have a few more things to tell you about.

We are back in Buenos Aires now and had a great last few days with our Intrepid group. Tango runs in the veins of this beautiful city and we were all lucky enough to have seen a fantastic show, which is a must when visiting. If you can, try to find a show with an included dance class which helps give you more of an appreciation of the art form, and allows you to say you learned to Tango in Buenos Aires!

Complejo Tango, Buenos Aires

Stu turned out to be a bit of a natural at Tango (must be to do with male pride) and we both decided to continue classes whilst we are here. Its great fun and very sensual to dance when done properly. The teacher was fantastic and hugely enthusiastic so if you are in BA and want a great experience, Complejo Tango (www.complejotango.com.ar) is highly recommended. The show was spectacular but in an intimate setting, with the performers mingling amongst diners.

Tango show, Buenos Aires

If you are lucky, (or unlucky depending on your point of view) you might even be plucked from your chair to dance in the isles, or be serenaded by an Argentinian Tony Bennett look-alike in a white suit. Brilliant!

The next day we headed out to San Telmo markets, another must not miss in this brilliant city.

San Telmo Antiques Market, Buenos Aires

It is on every sunday in Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo and is a treasure hunter’s mecca. Antiques, arts and crafts are ripe for the picking, with the some of the greatest and most unique items from the old-world available for very reasonable prices. Anything from jewelery, to ivory handled knives, to pinhole cameras and vintage lace are available at this once-off market.

San Telmo Antiques Market, Buenos Aires

You could spent all day perusing the display tables and speaking with stallholders who are very knowledgeable about the origin of their wares.

So now we are settled into our rooftop apartment in San Telmo which boasts a dinky old kitchen and a somewhat hazardous terrace but has great views over the city. This will be our home for the next week until we fly back down-under.

Rooftop Terrace, Buenos Aires

There is still so much to see here and we have plans to hire bikes and cruise around on one of the perfect clear days that seem to be endless here. A trip to Palermo Viejo is on the cards for a spot of boutique shopping and cocktail drinking (not to mention steak eating). We will call in on Eva Peron who lies in the huge cemetery in Recoleta and browse the weekend handicraft markets in the ajoining square. We will put away anything that can be snatched or stolen and walk the Caminito in La Boca for a look at this lively blue-collar suburb and maybe catch a La Boca Juniors game (soccer, obviously) if we are lucky.

Anyway, it has been a pleasure traveling with all of you and I hope the blog has been an enjoyable read. If you have any questions you need answered about any of the places we have been to please drop us a line at emily@stemmedia.com.au or leave a comment on the blog.

Happy travels!!

Em and Stu xoxo

Penguins and other creatures

So I can now say that I have officially been to the end of the world! Ushuaia is the southern most city in the world and I have the stamp in my passport to prove it. It is the base for excursions to Antarctica and lies on the windy and very chilly Beagle Channel. It is a place where there is a cozy fire behind every door and good food and cheer are bountiful.

Beagle Channel

A trip out onto the channel saw us come face to face with sea lions, basking in the morning sun and colonies of sea birds battling the arctic winds. We also ventured to a nearby island which is home to two types of penguins and where visitors can come to within meters of the thousands strong colony.

Magellanic Penguins, Patagonia

The still fluffy chicks hide in the nesting area to escape the bitterly cold wind that makes any more than an hour unbearable to us mere humans.

Young Magellanic Penguins, Patagonia

The next day our group split up for some optional activities which include hiking, kayaking, canoeing, fishing and horse riding. Of course, I found myself on the back of a Criollo pony riding high above the town which is surrounded by snow capped mountains.

Riding, Ushuaia

We galloped around the side of the hill and rounded the corner to a spectacular view over the channel and beyond to the snow capped peaks of Chile. Tears were whipped from my eyes in the wind and a felt truly lucky to have such a great experience on such a beautiful day.

The rest of the afternoon was spent soaking in a hot bath, browsing the towns stores and drinking hot chocolate.

Main street of Ushuaia

Stu arrived back late from his fly-fishing trip, equally excited about the day and we both agreed that this was definitely a place to come back to one day.

We are now back in Buenos Aires in the near 30 degree heat and Stu has already bought himself a pair of fancy cowboy boots which he is very pleased with. Tonight we celebrate the last night with our Intrepid group with a tango lesson followed by a show which promises to be a great Argentinian experience. I will keep you posted!

See ya

Em and Stu xo

The Windy Cities

Patagonia doesn’t have a reputation for being windy for nothing. At the moment we are in Punta Arenas where, during the windiest times of the year, ropes hang from street corners for pedestrians to grab onto so they do not find themselves blown into oncoming traffic. It is the southern most city on the mainland of Chile and is less than 1000kms from Antarctica… and it’s cold!

Eccentric Dinka, Punta Arenas, Chile

Our lodging is the home of an eccentric old lady called Dinka who irons her clothes on her desk and keeps a collection of tacky but fabulous garden gnomes in the flower garden of her colourful house.

We rocked into town this afternoon from Puerto Natales which is a quiet, sleepy town that time forgot. Our hire bikes were the perfect vehicle for viewing the town, which has wide flat streets.

Charming Puerto Natales, Chile

You can roll down to the waterfront and view black neck swans bobbing on the choppy sea. After three solid days of hiking in the Torres Del Paine national park, a leisurely ride around the town was a welcome relief.

Torres Del Paine is one of the most spectacular places in Patagonia. It is home to the ‘three towers’, or Torres, as well as glaciers and mountains to boot. After the first night in our spacious tents, on an unseasonably warm night, we set out on the hardest hike of our trip.

The Horns, Torres Del Paine, Chile

A walk through a flat valley and up over the base of Half Paine mountain found us at the first campsite for hikers looking to walk the famous ‘W’, which takes around a week to complete. The terrain continues across a river and through a forest until you reach a field of boulders, which was once the front of a glacier, or moraine. The real challenge was scrambling up the hill which in places was at an angle of about 65 degrees.

The Towers, Torres Del Paine, Chile

As we came up over the ridge the Torres stood tall in all their glory, the center tower rising up 1200 meters, against the yet again blue sky which has chased away the clouds from earlier in the morning. They are a stunning sight to see…

The walk took about 9 hours and we were rewarded with a lamb roasted over the fire for dinner and several bottles of wine which caused a great deal of dancing and general debauchery into the night!

Patagonian lamb roast, Chile

Patagonia is known for its lamb and I must say has given me a new-found taste for ribs… yum!!!

The Grey Glacier awaited us the next day. It takes a bus and a ferry ride from our campsite to reach it and on the windiest days the ferry does not run. We were lucky. Despite the fact there was barely a breath of air on one side of the lake, in the middle of the lake the winds were almost enough to sweep you off the roof of the boat. The hike was quite easy, only four hours all up and when we came close, our guide warned us that the lookout point onto the glacier was quite ‘exposed’.

Grey glacier, Torres Del Paine, Chile

An understatement if you ask me. I actually was able to lean all my weight into the wind as it reached close to 80kms/ph. The slightest wrong step and we would have been swept off the outcrop for sure. The glacier, which is one of the 48 glaciers of the Patagonian ice field, is sadly another victim of climate change and has retreatet quite significantly over the past 15 years.

Our next stop is Ushuaia, which is on the island of Tierra Del Fuego and even closer to Antarctica. Penguins, kayaking, fishing and horse riding await so stay tuned for further adventures!

Em and Stu xoxo

P.S Oh, I almost forgot to tell you about one of the best culinary discoveries of the trip. It’s called a ‘completo’ and is a Chilean favourite. It’s a hotdog with onions, tomato, guacamole and mayonaise. Genius!

The Completo

Perfect Patagonia

The past few days since we last spoke have been jam-packed with spectacular scenery. We met our next Intrepid group in Buenos Aires and yet again, we have chanced upon a great group. There are 12 of us this time from various backgrounds and the dynamics of the group are fantastic. Our leader Ana is wonderfully sweet and very organized; a real joy to have on your side.

We set off for Patagonia and landed in El Calafate late in the afternoon. It was a blazing blue-sky day, quite unusual for these parts. I am beginning to think that disaster follows us but amazing weather precedes us! On approach we were treated to a fly by over the Perido Moreno glacier and the surrounding mountains; a very unusual and thrilling occurrence.

Perido Moreno glacier from the plane, Patagonia

The glacier is 32kms long and flows lazily into the largest body of fresh water in Argentina, aptly named Lake Argentina.

After a restful night we set out, full of enthusiasm, for an up-close look at the glacier. The sun was rising over the peaks and casting a yellow glow into the open valley as we drove. We came across an eagle feasting on a rabbit killed on the road and we watched from only a few meters away as he tore at the rodent’s stomach, completely unfazed by our presence.

Black Chested Buzzard Eagle, Patagonia

We eventually dragged ourselves away and the south face of the glacier soon appeared majestically as we rounded a corner and glistened under the yet again perfect sky. The first boat out onto the lake is by far the least crowded and worth the early morning… and the 50 pesos!

The imposing Perido Moreno glacier, Patagonia

As you approach the glacier you can hear the ice cracking and straining under its own weight. Occasionally, chunks of ice will break away from the face and fall into the lake, creating a wave. This is one of the only glaciers in the world that is stable, if not advancing and grows and retreats at a pace of around 1.5 meters a day. It is made for viewing with the front nearly touching the sides of the lake.

Perido Moreno, Patagonia

It is placed so that you can actually view it from all sides on land and can have an overwhelming feeling of insignificance as it comes straight towards you. Albeit at a glacial pace! It really is something not to be missed.

The towns in this area are built on tourism and feel like a small ski resort towns.

El Chalten, Patagonia

Wood and corrugated iron give a quaint and homey feeling with a plethora of cafes, bars and restaurants providing refuge for weary and windswept hikers. For the first time in months we are in a place where you can safely drink the water out of the tap! Wonderful.

We are now in El Chalten eating Calefate berry waffles. Yum. We had to try these local berries, which are much like a blueberry as the locals say that if you eat the Calefate berry when you are in Patagonia, you will surely return. I don’t know how that works but I just had to make sure I covered all by bases.

On our drive between the two towns we stopped for a coffee and a piece of home-made cake at a ranch. It was like I had gone to heaven. A beautiful log hut with huge glass windows overlooking the valley and surrounding mountains complete with a wooden deck. A zoo of animals milled around including a Choique (much like and emu but smaller), a Guanaco and her young (sort of like an Alpaca but from the camel family), a black house cat and several sheep.

Baby Guanaco, Patagonia

They all butted up against the front door, vying for a place inside with the family. Only the young Guanaco was allowed in as it was being bottle fed. I got to feed a baby Guanaco!!! So cute! For those of you that know me will understand how much of a thrill it was for me.

Yesterday was our 10 hour hike to Mt Fitzroy which juts sharply out of the landscape. It is unusual to see it in its entirety but as usual the gods of clear skies did not disappoint. In fact our guides (www.walkpatagonia.com), who had been hiking the track for years said they have almost never seen it as clear as it was yesterday.

Mt Fitzroy in all its glory, Patagonia

This place is known as one of the coldest and windiest parts, with rain and snow being the norm. On a clear day, this is without a doubt one of the most spectacular places I have ever seen.

Lunch at Laguna De Los Tres, Patagonia

I will not rabbit on about it but will simply put up some photos and they are the best way to demonstrate the beauty of this special place. Come here, you will not regret it. It is amazing!

Close to the top for a view onto Mt Fitzroy, Patagonia

El Chalten is a great little place to cozy up to a beer from the local micro-brewery or drink endless cups of coffee and admire the surrounding cliffs.

Next we across the border to Chile for a few days of hiking and camping.

See you soon

Em and Stu xoxo

Reflections

Now that I look back on it, the way our trip to the salt flats in Bolivia began is actually quite funny. It was the last day of carnival and all of us had settled in on the bus for a 14 hour overnight journey to Uyuni where the tour of the salt flats begins. After half an hour or so of waiting we were informed that our driver would not be arriving as he was too intoxicated to walk, let alone drive a bus and that our trip may be canceled. We didn’t have all that much time to spare so I was suitably irritated by this stage. In Bolivia bus companies must have two drivers for all long-distance trips so they can share the workload. The police check that this is being adhered too, but in our case, I think they turned a blind eye and hoped to god nothing went wrong.

There had been a fair amount of rain and the journey was set to take 14 hours rather than the usual 10-12 due to the state of the roads. We rattled over unsealed roads all night and as the sun rose I peaked out the window.

Nearly stuck! On the way to Uyuni, Bolivia

We had stopped and I heard shouting from outside the bus. There were 3 or 4 buses that were close to tipping over, so badly bogged in the wet sand of the high desert. Our driver was discussing how to prevent us getting stuck too with other drivers who had run aground. Some great driving and hard revving eventually got us through the danger spot and over several creeks which had turned into rivers overnight.

Uyuni is an outpost town that has flourished due to its proximity to the salt flats.

Loaded up, arriving in Uyuni, Bolivia

We found a breakfast of pancakes and coffee and dreamed of a hot shower, before jumping into our Landcruiser for what promised to be a spectacular adventure.

First stop was the train graveyard, a spot where old steam-trains came to die. There were about 20 of them and they were slowly crumbling in the salty soil. I was exceedingly glad that I had had my tetanus shot before I left!

Train graveyard, Uyuni, Bolivia

It wasn’t long after this that we were gliding across bright white salt flats, with the brilliant midday sun reflecting off the hard surface. It is so bright that it is impossible to see without sunglasses and makes your eyes water in an instant. Gliding across the salt is a very surreal experience as often you will look around, unable to find the horizon. In parts, a thin layer of water sits on top of the salt and creates a reflection so perfect that your brain in unable to distinguish what is reflection and what is real.

Perfect relfection, salt flats, Bolivia

We stopped the driver at one stage and splashed out, barefoot onto the salt flat. The water is about an inch thick and had been warmed by the hot midday sun. It was so peaceful… all I could think of was that heaven must look like this. If I believed in heaven and I were to drive into it in a Landcruiser it would for sure be like this!

Fish Island eventually rose up on the horizon; a large craggy outcrop in the middle of the virgin white salt. It was covered in giant cacti that stood as much as 3 or so stories high. It was an other-worldly landscape and quite unlike anything I had ever seen before.

Fish Island, salt flats, Bolivia

Emu-like birds roamed around looking for scraps of food from tourists. It is difficult to believe that any form of life could exist in this barren and harsh environment.

Our accommodation for the night was in a small village, built entirely from adobe bricks. As soon as the sun disappeared over the horizon, we fell into bed, sunburnt and exhausted. We woke to another stunning day and set off in search of Flamingos that spent their days dredging through high, sulfurous lakes. About half an hour into our journey, our driver made a bad decision and we ended up, nearly on our side, bogged in a huge puddle of water. We all scrambled out of the car and surveyed the damage… it didn’t look good.

The not-so-legendary Landcruiser...

If it hadn’t of been for the fact that we had wildly signalled for the other FWD groups to come and help us, we would probably still be there! After much heated talking and an attempt to pull the car out with manpower (!!) the car was finally towed out to safety. When we opened the doors, water poured out but at least we had escaped spending the night out in the desert.

The lakes did not disappoint. There were hundreds of Flamingos, lazily wading around the shallow lakes. The scenery was spectacular and the wind whistled through the high passes. The Laguna Colorada glowed red in the fading light of the afternoon and we eventually reached our next sleeping place.

Laguna Colorada, Bolivia

This was even more isolated and temperatures there have been known to drop as low at -40 degrees later in the year. A local lady was bottle-feeding a baby alpaca, which wandered in an out of our rooms and snuggled into passing tourists for warmth. It was amazing to see where people manage to make a life for themselves. This was about as isolated as it get, bitterly cold and situated at about 4300 meters above sea level.

We rose at 4am the next day on the promise of some hot springs as the sun rose. There is a great deal of volcanic activity in the area and geysers puff steam into the cold mountain air. The warmth of the hot spring was bliss and I wondered if I would ever again sit in warm water, watching the sun rise with Flamingos wandering through the hazy morning light.

There is so much more to day about this incredible experience in a country that is still very raw and fairly intouched by tourism. It is challenging but incredibly rewarding for those brave enough to tackle the altitude (Bolivia lays claim to the highest everything), the harsh climate and the testing way of life. After the salt flats you can cross into Chile from an outpost border crossing and lay in a hammock to recover for a few days in the charming town of San Pedro De Atacama. This really is an experience not to be missed!

We are now in Buenos Aires, having missed the quake in Santiago by 4 hours. Excited about heading down to Patagonia, with our new and fantastic Intrepid group! They really are a great and fun group of people.

We will be in touch.

Em and Stu xoxo

Near death

From the mountain town of Cusco, we hopped on a bus and headed for Puno to explore the wonders of the highest navigable lake in the world, Titicaca. Early in the morning we found ourselves on a local bicycle taxi and rolled through the streets just as shop owners were opening their doors and children emerged to head to school. The bicycle taxi is real local experience with the driver sitting behind his two passengers so they have a great view of the world passing by. If you are lucky, like we were, you might even have a soundtrack of salsa to accompany your journey!

Morning on Lake Titicaca, Peru


The lake was glassy and still when we boarded the boat. We glided across the lake, past islands of reeds where pigs and cows grazed in the soft morning light. You could see a perfect reflection of the sky in the water. The floating islands came into view not long after and we eventually alighted onto the islands of Uros.

Floating Islands of Uros, Peru

It is a strange feeling to know that you are standing on a man-made island constructed entirely out of reeds. All the houses, boats and shelters were constructed out of the same reed that grows in the lake.

Floating Island on Lake Titicaca, Peru

These reeds are tied together to form the structure which is about 2 meters in depth. The water however is perhaps just 20 cm from the surface as the bales float low in the lake.

Artisan crafts on Lake Titicaca, Peru

The tapestry and weavings produced by the ladies are intricate and beautiful. Of course it is so much nicer to buy directly from the people who produce them than from the shops on the mainland. The community relies entirely on tourism to support itself and is very open to questions, photos and the guide can translate the local Quechua language for you. You can take a ride on their boats, which looks much like Viking boats, except smaller and made of reeds. I even got to paddle one!

Reed boat, Lake Titicaca

Our next stop was the UNESCO protected island Taquile for lunch. The authorities distribute tourists evenly amongst the islands inhabitants so each household has a chance to earn some money by cooking the local fare. Interestingly the men on the island are known for their knitting skills, often using 6 needles at one time to create detailed designs.

Knitting on the Island of Taquile, Peru

When a couple are set to marry, the husband-to-be will knit part of the bridal gown for his fiancée. The women weave belts for their lovers to help support their backs when lifting heavy weights. They will also weave belts for special occasions from their own hair which they grow long until they find their life partner.

As we left the island and started on the 3 hours journey back to Puno, the clouds started to gather. It wasn’t long before we were in the middle of a hail storm with the swell breaking over the bow of our tiny boat.

Storm rolling in on Lake Titicaca, Peru

The waves became so intense that one of the glass windows collapsed, spraying glass over the front of the cabin but luckily, no one was hurt.

The next day we headed for La Paz in Bolivia. We all had to jump of the bus and walk across the border. As soon as any of the officials saw our passports we were met with a demonstration of their knowledge of Australian native animals. “Kangaroo”, “Koala” were obviously the favourites. We rolled into La Paz in the afternoon and prepared ourselves for the next day which would take us down one of the most dangerous roads in the world, the Death Road, on the back of a bicycle.

Get ready to ride! Bolivia

It is 70kms of downhill and starts high up in the mountains near the snow-line at nearly 5000 meters. By the end of the day you are sweltering in the jungle having stripped off as many layers as possible.

Road of Death, Bolivia

The road is the width of a car in most places but you constantly have a sheer cliff to your left with no safety barriers of any kind. I often found myself coming around one of the switchback corners and almost feeling the road disappear from under me.

Landslides on the Road of Death, Bolivia

We encountered several landslides which had occurred overnight and for this reason our emergency support vehicle could not accompany us. We did it all alone!
We sadly left our first Intrepid group behind in La Paz the next day. We really had seem some incredible things that we would never have come across on our own.

We are headed into the desert now for the next few days to explore the salt flats so next time we speak, we will have landed in Argentina if all goes to plan.
Speak soon!

Em and Stu

The hills are alive…

The start of our journey into the mountains started the way I initially wanted it to end. The hot springs of Lares are deep in the mountains and just outside the tiny town, which is the starting point of the Lares trek. The complex is surprisingly modern with several pools of differing temperatures, one so hot it makes your hair stand on end.

With a belly full of food, we set off; energetic, excited and full of confidence. We had stopped at the markets to buy small gifts for the local Andean children. Our guide had encouraged us to buy hair ties, marbles, pencils and fruit for the children who only had potatoes to eat at the best of times. It wasn’t long before we were met with the grubby, snotty, beautiful little faces of the mountains. They were wrapped colourful scarves and wore only sandals or bare-feet despite the chilly mountain weather.

The children of the mountains

Bananas and apples are something particularly special for these children who live on a staple of potatoes and corn. They stuffed their treats in their pockets to save them for a special time.

We continued to walk further along the mountain path and ascended through streams, past herds of llama and alpaca until we finally reached a small village built of adobe bricks. Our camp was ready and waiting complete with a dining tent which had been set-up by the horseman who had left us in the dust earlier in the day. From the zip-open door of our tent we could see two Andean women who had setup a stall to sell the six of us beer, drinks and hand-knitted scarves.

Andean women

Several children skipped around them chasing a bicycle tyre, uninterested in our presence until Stu brought out our video camera. They delighted at being able to see themselves on the camera screen and crowded around in fits of laughter.

Curious faces

We woke the next day to a blazing blue sky and as we walked we watch the sun rise over the ridge. Today promised to the be most grueling day with four solid hours of ascent to reach the mountain pass at 4600 meters above sea level. It was tough. It was really really tough but incredibly spectacular. All of us chewed mouthfuls of Coca leaves and finally made it to the top. I actually cried when we got there… it was so tough but it was so beautiful.

Made it to the top!

To one side we had the deep valley with herds of Llamas and to the other side of the narrow ridge we had a still, deep, blue mountain lake.

The rest of the day was a descent towards our next campsite. The mountains to the left of us held several glaciers and a spectacular rocky peaks.

Our dedicated horsemen and porters

Again, the horsemen and porters passed us on the way up the hill. They arrived at our next camp at 11.40 am, leaving after us and we rolled in at around 3.30pm, exhausted. Fitness in the high mountains is a whole other story!

We were very lucky with our guide. Guido is from Cusco and very passionate about the local area. He offered a plethora of information along the way and brought to life some of the long and complex history of Peru. He taught us about bringing an offering for “pacha mama” or mother earth for when we pass the highest point of our journey. We all carried a small stone from where we started the trek and placed them on a pile at the highest point, along with three Coca leaves, one to represent each level of life the Incas believed in. These are the things that really make you feel like you are in another culture and help you also to understand it.

We ended our journey in a small town in the Sacred Valley in a Chicheria. Chicha is almost like a religion in this country. It is an light alcoholic drink made from corn which has been made and drunk for hundreds of years by farmers. A Chicheria is marked by a red plastic bag on a stick and is much like what we would call a pub. Of course every drink must have a game to go with it and the Peruvians pass their time not with billiards but with Sapo. Sapo means frog in Spanish and the idea is to throw gold coins into the open mouth of a small frog mounted to a table.

Drinking game Sapo

Around it are several holes which carry a certain amount of points. And as with most drinking games, the more you lose, the more you drink, the more you lose etc.

We are back in Cusco now and have visited many archeological sites around this great city. One of the most fascinating things is that still to this day they are uncovering more and more Inca remains that have been covered by earth and vegetation for hundreds of years.

Tomorrow we head off to Puno for a swimming adventure at Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest navigable lake and also the largest in South America.

See you soon!

Em and Stu