SABSabbatical Summary

This is my final post i’m sad to say… I’ve actually found it quite cathartic and have enjoyed all the comments received from people when reading about my trip!

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My trip visually summarised

Obviously you all know this post will include some stats, so lets get straight to it!

THE STATS

Number of days in South America: 95

Number of beds slept in: 46

Number of books read: 12

Highest temperature hit: 37 degrees

Highest altitude hit: 5000m when travelling through the Atacama desert towards Chile

Number of flights taken: 19

Longest hours on a plane: 11.5 (Buenos Aires to Madrid)

Longest hours on a bus: 14 (when in Patagonia)

Mountains climbed: 3 – Pasachoa, Torres del Paine, Fitzroy

Number of Wonders of the World seen: Only 1 – Machu Picchu (somehow Iguasu isn’t a WotW, but according to this website i’ve seen 10 of the top 14 natural wonders to see in South America so not too bad an effort!)

Number of steaks eaten: I’d guess about 20!

Number of KM walked: Annoyingly my pedometer on my iPhone failed me, but i’ve certainly walked / hiked far more than i ever have!

Number of boats taken: 12 – more than i wanted to before i came out, but i’m now OK on boats!

Number of pictures taken: 3078 (so an average of 32 a day)

Number of blog posts: 35 (including this one)

Countries i now have friends in: 8 (Oz, Ireland, Wales, Canada, South Africa, Netherlands, Sweden, Israel)

TOP THREE LISTS

Top 3 things i saw on my trip:

In no particular order – Macchu Picchu, Iguasu Falls and Easter Island

4 5 6

Top 3 things i did on my trip:

In no particular order – snorkelling in the Galapagos, taking fun photos on the salt flats, hiking in the Torres del Paine

7 8 9

Top 3 animals i met on my trip:

In no particular order – giant turtles, alpacas and St Bernard dogs

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Top 3 local people pics i took on my trip:

In no particular order – Ecuadorean woman, Peruvian baby, Bolivian woman

10 11 12

Top 3 Spanish words:

In no particular order: Zanahoria (carrot), Cataratas (waterfall), Porteño (what people born in Buenos Aires call themselves)

Top 3 songs of my trip:

In no particular order: Enrique – Bailando,  Sia – Dressed in Black (but really all the album),  Chan Chan – BVSC

Finally – Top 3 things i learnt:

Respect: This is for the local customs, local people, and also the environment i’m in. You can’t walk into a country and expect things to be exactly as they are at home. Respect what’s around you…

Patience: I met a whole range of people during my trip and my levels of patience were certainly tested! Finding ways to keep calm and not letting things stress you will make a big difference

Resilience: You CAN make it to the top of the mountain, and you CAN face your fears whatever they may be…. It’s all mental…

MY TIPS FOR OTHER TRAVELLERS

  • Do the free walking tours in each city. They’re usually great and a fab way to get to know where you are (and make friends)
  • Go  halves on food – portions are huge typically so share one main between two – or just get a starter
  • Follow the locals – we went to places recommended by other travellers, but ultimately the best meals were those recommended by locals in small establishments. Way better and way cheaper
  • Download Citymaps2go – i should get a commission i recommend them so much but it’s def my app of the trip
  • Get a no fee travel credit card (I have Halifax Clarity) as it saves you a lot of money in the long run
  • Pay for Spotify/Napster or some music service where you can change your music along the way – you’re gonna get bored of your albums – trust me!
  • Use Dropbox or iCloud or the like for your photos in case you lose your phone/camera. Then your memories aren’t lost…
  • Touchnote is a great app if you want to send an actual postcard whilst away. It brought a lot of smiles to my family and friends
  • Visit a local drugstore and check out what you can buy there that you may not be able to get in your country!
  • Read others’ blogs – a great way to get tips!

Thanks for reading people, and looking forward to seeing all your smiley faces in the very near future 🙂

Sabs x

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The finale: Buenos Aires

When i was researching my trip, i was told that Buenos Aires was as if Paris and New York had a baby…. and it’s true!

Parisian influences are everywhere…. The metro stops and buildings look typically French…

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One of the few cities which has a Rodin sitting quietly in the centre – free for all to see…

But meanwhile you’re never far from skyscrapers and big glass buildings, reminiscent of New York (or a big city)

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Puerto Madero – the port

I spent about 10 days in Buenos Aires – and love the city… there’s lots to see and do with plenty different areas to explore…

Sundays are all about the markets… San Telmo is the big one where you can see musicians, artists, painters and hundreds of stalls selling their wares. There’s also the Feria de Mataderos which is smaller and bit more authentic with gauchos walking around and women dancing to traditional tunes

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A typical Argentinian BBQ... called an asado
A typical Argentinian BBQ… called an asado

I did a graffiti walking tour around La Boca which was cool. There is so much street art to see and appreciate – sadly some of the area is ‘dangerous’ so the tour was done via foot / taxi and included a big burly guy who was our bodyguard (not that we needed it!)

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We saw massive colourful murals, some stencilling, and a whole street where each house has some art around it – all done by the same artist. It’s all considered street art – and is held in high regard – some shops commission artists to graffiti up their shops as branding.

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Loved finding this dog just chilling out the window!
Loved finding this dog just chilling out the window!

Nat and I decided to do a cookery class one morning… we learnt traditional Argentinians food such as empanadas (kinda like a pasty), Locro (a type of stew) and alfajores (a type of macaroon with caramel filling). It wasn’t the greatest class – with a teacher a bit too OCD about everything, but it was a fun few hours nevertheless!

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We did a walking tour around the city – taking in the Pink Palace (where Evita Peron made her speech), the obelisk, and all the way up to Recoleta cemetery which is a beautiful resting place for many…

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There’s a parade / protest almost every day… today was actually a celebration of 31 years of independence
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A massive picture of Evita doing her speech on a building (though it looks like someone eating a sandwich for some!)
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“Don’t cry for me Argentina”

We visited the MALBA museum where we saw lots of art including some modern pieces and we got to meet this “pretty” lady…

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The first evening Nat arrived we went to see Fuerzabruta – a great show which is shown globally. It’s interactive, immersive and very different to anything i’d seen before… if you’ve not seen it, go!

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One day we managed to visit the oldest Synagogue in Buenos Aires. it has a large Jewish community, and actually one of the only kosher McDonald’s outside of Israel… The synagogue was beautiful – and the lady who took us around was really interesting to talk to and learn about the Jewish history in Argentina

One of the first most surprising facts was the symbol which was found numerous times in the synagogue… (see pic below). Most people associate this sign with a certain famous film, but it actually is a Jewish sign. The hand gesture forms a Jewish character (the letter Shin) which represents a name meaning God. This hand gesture (done with both hands) used to be performed in synagogues during ceremonies, but is now more known for meaning ‘ Live Long and Proper!’ If you want to read more about how it ended up in Star Trek… read this post

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There are many beautiful buildings – from the Theatre Colon (where i went to see The Nutcracker), a bookshop in an old theatre and random buildings all dotted around the city…

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We saw a Tango show (impressive!), we ate some amazing steaks (you CAN cut it with a spoon!) and saw some dog walkers (cute!)

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Christmas and Boxing Day were very different here. Very few Christmas trees and 30 degree temperatures! We may not have had turkey and the works (not that we usually do!), but we did have a fab evening – spent with Leonard – our Israeli cousin who we hadn’t seen for a few years. So it was still a family day for us which was the best part!

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We managed to get quite a bit of shopping in during our time in BA – in fact, i didn’t bring many (any!) of my travel clothes home and instead came home with new stuff which is fun – just a shame i’m going back to cold wintery London and i bought summer clothes!!

We did a couple day trips to Uruguay and Tigre from BA whilst we were there too which were both lovely days and suddenly it was time to fly home…

I’m now writing this from Paris where we spent NYE together as a family last night. It was great being all together… we’ve always been a close family, but travelling made me realise how much i see / speak / think of them all and how important they are to me! Plus we did a slightly delayed Secret Santa (or Happy Hanukah) and my cousin had made me a photo book of my journey which just tipped me over the edge and i burst into tears (of happiness!)

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A fabulous way to end my trip and start my journey back to normality!

Another Wow day!

So Nat has finally arrived (without her luggage, but that’s another story!) and we decided to head pretty much straight to Iguazu to check out one of the world’s natural wonders of the world. Many blogs talk about whether to do both sides, and how long to take etc… we decided we wanted to see both sides, and so went for 3 nights (2 full days). And it was worth every minute and pound (or peso) spent!

We loved it all – from the animals roaming the falls, the different views from both sides, or the boat trip we took under the falls when we got drenched! Day 1 was the Argentinian side where you can get close up to the falls. Day 2 was the Brazilian side where you see the scale – plus a quick trip to a bird park next door which was kinda fun too!

Photos tell a better story, so here we go…

THE ARGENTINIAN SIDE:

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THE BOAT TRIP UNDER THE FALLS:

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THE BIRD PARK:

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THE BRAZILIAN SIDE:

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A great couple of days!

My travel must-haves

With only 2 weeks left, i’ve started unloading some of my packing gear along the way. Certain things don’t need to come back with me (e.g. hiking stuff) so i’ve donated quite a few bits to the homeless to keep them warm or provide them with new(er) shoes than they currently have…

But downsizing is also making me realise what i have not been able to live without this trip. Yes, the obvious ones of phone / laptop are up there, but below are my alternative things which i have been grateful to have with me this trip…

In no particular order…

IMG_3090 This has been a surprising one! But i’ve had many uses for this superglue during my trip. Firstly- it glued my inner soles into my shoes as they kept slipping out. Then it fixed my Panama hat when a small hole appeared out of nowehre. And then it helped me fix my big over-ear headphones that Sofia had kindly donated to me. So all in all… it’s been of great use. And takes up no space too which is even better!

IMG_3091My external battery charger. I ended up getting a rather large one that could charge 2 devices at the same time, multiple times on one charge. Not knowing what my agenda was throughout the trip, i thought i may be without power at some point and be grateful for this. And apart from 3 days camping i’ve been near plug sockets pretty much all the time, However it’s still come in handy on those long bus days when the ipod/iphone battery dies so fast (as they do!). It’s also been a good convo starter in some places too!

IMG_3092My sea sickness bands. Ironically they have been more use on the buses than in the boats! The roads (at times) can be just awful. Potholes, gravel and Very bumpy – sometimes for hours on end… a good few of us felt queasy at times, but I soon realised that these bands were good for All types of travel- not just boats!! So they got put to great use and i was eternally glad for them!!

IMG_3093Tissues. A very simple thing, but SO needed in South America. Firstly, you never know if the toilets are going to have toilet paper or not. Never assume. Nice place or not – it guarantees nothing. (Plus the toilet paper in South America isn’t anything to shout home about!) Secondly, no-one really told me that i’d be blowing my nose more in this place. A combination of altitude, and differing temperatures meant my nose didn’t know if it was up or down, so having tissues handy was certainly a good thing! (Side note: altitude does some freaky things to your nose blowing – i wasn’t expecting it, but after a chat with others, i wasn’t the only one – phew!!)

IMG_3094The humble hair clip. I’ve had my hair cut twice (so far) whilst i’ve been away. Partly just to feel normal again, partly because I’ve needed it! But the last hair cut in Ushuaia ended up with me getting a shorter fringe than i had planned. My hair plan had Always been to keep it long enough to tie back… but the Argentinian hairdresser didn’t know this plan and had other ideas. Enter stage left – the hair clips! They’ve been really useful and stopped me looking like i’ve been dragged through a  bush at times! But really – i’m just waiting for my fringe to grow back into my plan…

IMG_3100Whilst we’re on the subject…. Surf spray. For my hair. I knew it wasn’t taking my straighteners with on the trip, but i needed something to tame my hair. And Bumble & Bumble’s surf spray was my saviour. It gives my hair a bit of a wind-swept look, and minimises the “i-havent-brushed-my-hair look”. In fact, i may not use the straighteners so religiously when i come back – i’ve come to terms with my ‘natural’ hair style now!

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The saviour of chapped lips, grazes (i fell on one hike) and sore noses when you’re full of cold. I usually have Carmex with me in the UK too, but boy was i happy to have it with me on this trip too!

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My Swiss Army knife. My cousin (Aviva) had bought it for me after she stayed earlier in the year. I wasn’t sure how much i’d need it – but the winescrew aspect has been VERY helpful whilst navigating myself through my trip – Mendoza particularly!! But its actually been a good thing to have on the trip… you never know when you may need a tooth pick 🙂

IMG_3099Hats! I’m not a hat person- never have been! I have never really suited them – i have a very round face, and just am not comfortable in them…. or never was! Then i discovered my Panama hat and things changed! It’s useful against the sun AND looked ok! Fast forward to the cold weather times, and my ear muff and beanie hat were then the order of the day. Some days i may not have looked my best, but hats are actually pretty damn useful! (The Santa hat was for Secret Santa a couple weeks back – but i’ve kept it for the 25th too!)

IMG_3098My water bottle. Firstly it has a filter in it so i can drink pretty much ANY water and it will purify it for me. I saw it at a travel show and bought it. And really like it. But what makes it is the way i can clip it onto my rucksack and have it within easy access. That is a Dad-Hack. He took a shoelace, tied it round the head and attached a carabiner clip to it. That’s what Dad’s are for, no?! Such a simple idea, but Very effective. I may patent it!

IMG_3102Finally, another Dad-hack. My rucksack has wheels which is awsome. The only thing that was frustrating was that I was about 1-2 inches too tall to pull it along so had to get into an odd position to drag it along. But no… Another Dad-hack and i got a handle attachment and to increase the height! Ingenious!

So there you go – quite a random list, and i wouldn’t say that everyone needs to take these 11 things with them, but they ended up being my surprising top items for my trip!

The tail end of the Tucan Tour

I’m back in Santiago and my Tucan Tour has just ended. Another 3 week trip has flown by! This trip took my from Ushuaia up to Santiago – all by bus!

tucanA total of approx 4900km crossing the Andes and Chile/Argentina a few times but over such beautiful areas. But it did come at a ‘slight’ price – my tour group! As you well know – we were only 6 people, so it meant there was nowhere really to hide! People were nice enough – but it was worlds apart from my previous tour with G when i’d made loads of friends. Age did partly come into play on this tour (everyone was much older), but it wasn’t just that. Some people are very negative, or opinionated, or just have no self awareness… And so i am VERY HAPPY that the tour has ended and i’m alone with no bickering or snide comments or nose blowing going on!!! It’s not a Tucan thing – it’s just the luck of the draw as to who is on your tour group. One of the girls on G had had a bad experience on a previous G tour, so had chosen to pay the single supplement for her own room… and i get that! She wouldn’t have needed it we now know, but impossible to know when you book! If i was to do another tour, i would certainly choose G again – though i wouldn’t fully discount Tucan either. It really comes down to location, route, dates, price and availability… along with number of people and age range (if you can find this out beforehand)

Anyway – back to my trip! We’d just arrived in Bariloche – which i’d heard lots of good things about. It was certainly pretty but it didn’t wow me – again this could be the curse of having been to many amazing places! First things first, i knew that there were St Bernards there so i hunted them down for a cuddle! Sadly it’s a bit of a tourist trap and people hawk their dogs out for you to get snapped with… but they’re so cute!

She was actually called Brenda - like my aunt which made me chuckle as she didn't look like a Brenda to me!
She was actually called Brenda – like my aunt … which made me chuckle as she didn’t look like a Brenda to me!

Then we visited the town. There’s a nice main street filled with shops and restaurants / cafes which we wandered around. Lots of the shops sell hiking / climbing gear, so despite being in the mood for shopping and getting some new clothes, i wasn’t remotely successful! The town itself is cute – Swiss style places, lovely flowers blooming around, and a pretty church which i popped into and snapped a bit of too

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We chose not to stay at This establishment!

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As Toni was ending the tour in Bariloche we had a farewell supper that night. And it was a no brainer where we were going for dinner – everyone had bigged up a steak place which does amazing meat. It opened at 8, and was full by 8.01 so we needed to queue if we wanted to get in. So a couple of us went at 7.30 to walk over there. We got there and there was no queue at all – but within 30 seconds (i kid you not) a massive group of 28 people suddenly rounded the corner so it was bloody lucky we had got there just before them or we wouldn’t have got in! The food was as good as we’d heard. Despite still trying to find the steak that “you can cut with a spoon it’s so tender” i would recommend the restaurant if you’re in the area!

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My French roots mean i like my steak RARE!

We were due to head off to Pucon the next day early in the morning, but after a chat and some slight negotiation (beer!) i managed to convince the guys that we didn’t need to leave at 7am, but that we’d all enjoy a night out and then a more respectable departure of 11am! We were all happy about this, so went out for a few beers/pisco sours/wines (delete as appropriate) in a really nice pub

Fast forward to Pucon. This is a town now back in Chile and our penultimate stop before ending in Santiago. People go to Pucon for two main reasons. #1 is to climb an active volcano (Villaricca) and #2 is to go some water-based sports as they offer great kayaking and rafting

We were in Pucon for 2.5 days and two things were against us sadly. Firstly – we happened to be there over the RiverFest weekend – meaning there were some competitions going on and therefore most water-based activities weren’t possible. Secondly – the weather wasn’t on our side. It rained ALL day. You need good weather to climb the volcano. It’s a big volcano which takes about 4 hours climbing (at a 30-45 degree angle all the time) to get up to the top – so it’s hard work going up, but also down. The best aspects are that if you get to the top (time and weather dependent) you can look into the crater of an active volcano, AND that you can slide down some parts as it’s so snowy. All sounds great, but with the weather and all of us quite tired after a lot of hiking and long bus rides, the enthusiasm was waning and none of us chose to do it the one day it was technically possible!

However, Pucon will be dearly remembered by me as it was the location where my Secret Santa dinner took place! Remember that present i’ve been carrying around for the last 10 weeks!? Well it was finally time to open it! I (tried to) Skype the girls as they were at dinner, but technology was against us. I could hear, but not really see much as the restaurant was quite dark. But meanwhile they could see me, but not hear a thing as it was loud! We tried a few different things but resorted to live Whatsapp chat as people opened their presents!

Was nice to (try and) be part of our annual tradition, but i’ll prefer it when i’m actually with them!

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The present getting festive!
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Me and my pressies!
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The view from London!

Pucon is a sweet little town with markets and plenty nice restaurants to check out – but it was a shame we didn’t get to do the main event – though it was  technically open to us!

The Volcano climb that never was...
The Volcano climb that never was…

Final day in the bus and it was a 12 hour drive up to Santiago… We stopped along the way for lunch, a quick waterfall visit, and to see some pretty flowers! The flora and fauna has certainly changed as we drove up through the country – now we’re back in hot weather the colours we can see are abundant! And so pretty!

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I’m confident Iguasu will top this!

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And i’ve made it back to Santiago! I have three days here to enjoy and then i’m off to Buenos Aires…. exciting times!

Picture Perfect Patagonia

No blogging for over a week as the wifi in Patagonia is limited- to say the least! But i’m back! And loving Patagonia! It truly is so stunning – every corner you turn has another beautiful view that sadly you start to become a bit blase about it all…. however hard you try!

Last post I think i’d arrived in Punta Arena after the long travel day to get there. As we were there on a Sunday there wasn’t much going on, so a lie in was in order first – which i didn’t complain about!

We’d heard that there was a tax-free zone (called Zona Franca) so we headed there for a spot of shopping in the morning. Sadly, almost 90% of the shops were closed! And the one i ended up buying a few bits from was – i was informed – in Zona Austral, and therefore not tax free!! (I only bought some gloves and a tshirt, but still!)

On the way back we stopped off at the cemetery- which had been recommended by a few people.  It was interesting to walk around – so many different types of plots or tombs – from tiny boxes for those who couldn’t afford more to mini houses dedicated to loved ones. A well tended cemetery and actually as good a resting place as any!

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In the afternoon we headed out to see the Magellan penguins. We came across a colony so watched them go about their life – they’re cute to watch as they waddle around!

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Next day we drove to Puerto Natales – a small town which is largely used as a pre-base for Torres del Paine national park. There wasn’t much to see or do in the town, so we had a wander, visited a supermarket (ooh – exciting!) and had dinner. Oh – there was a fire station to see – though it had burned down – the irony!!

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Up early the next day to get to Torres del Paine where we’d be for the next 3 days. We arrived there around 10am and started hiking straight away. There’s a famous trek people do called the ‘W’ trek as it is shaped in this way. It usually takes 4-5 days, so we were only doing one part – the main part- which gets you to the towers and a lake. It’s not the easiest of walks BUT after my hike in Ecuador at altitude, i did find this one a bit easier – in that i could breathe!

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The group of us ready and raring to go!

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Stunning scenery along the way – the whole hike took us around 8 hours (average time) and takes you up hills, along rivers, through a crazy wind tunnel and a forest and eventually up over some boulders to the top where you come across the lake and the view. It was well worth while when we got up there!

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Then you have to sadly hike back down the way you came which is less fun! But fine! We finally got back, headed to our campsite – had some dinner and went to bed exhausted. We had some new South African canvas tents that were awesome, and some really nice sleeping bags so i slept like a baby that night!

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View from inside my tent!

Next day we had a relaxing morning and then some of us headed to Lago Grey to do a boat tour up to the glaciers. We saw the Grey Glaciers which were ironically very blue in colour – though i later learnt that the Grey name was in honour of someone – not for the colour! the scenery reminded me of when i was in Alaska.

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Yup thats me!
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Ice Ice Baby…

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Final day had another hike and a boat ride, but with all the travelling i’d done to date, i’d had enough so opted for a day at the campsite with Toni. And it was well needed! We slept until 10, had breakfast and then went back to sleep until around 2ish! A little walk to the gate (all of 2km away!) was our exercise for the day and then we had some wine as we awaited the others! We were so lucky with the weather for our camping days. Quite windy but no rain, and when the sun came out it was delightful! Not sunbathing weather, but nice and warm – appreciated after the 6 degrees we’d had previously!

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My celebratory stance after making it to the campsite gate!!
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Landscape through my glasses… arty!

We left Torres del Paine and made our way to El Calafate – back on the Argentinian side of Patagonia. It was a long drive again (made worse by a ridiculously incompetent border crossing!) but all was made better by a Patagonian lamb dish which was delicious! Next day we headed for the Perito Moreno Glacier for the day. It was a bigger tour we joined where i befriended Anton from Copenhagen for the day. First stop was a little estanica and the only reason i mention it is because i got to feed a baby guanaco which was the cutest thing ever. She was only 2 weeks old and gorgeous so that was fun!

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I told the guanaco that my jumper was merely a very distant relative of hers so she didn’t freak out….

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Anyway – back to the ice! The glacier is ENORMOUS – like 30km long and over 50m high. And its growing by 2 metres every DAY… which is crazy! But makes for a great visit as it means that it’s constantly creaking and groaning and eventually it ‘calves’ – ie some ice falls off. You need to have beady eyes as if you hear it then you’ve missed seeing it. Luckily we saw some great chunks fall off which was impressive to see and hear.

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Back into town to visit the little stores and wander around. Then Stu, Em and I walked to a great restaurant we’d read about online which served proper homemade food. I had a veggie lasagna which was delicious which Em had a beef stew cooked inside a pumpkin which was pretty cool!

Next day – and we’re off to El Chalten – a little town which is the base for seeing Mount Fitzroy – another mountain to climb! The weather was beautiful this day so Toni and I went for a 2hr easy walk to a waterfall which we enjoyed

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Next day we tackled the mountains themselves! The city is often known as the windy city (another one!) and rightly so as the winds are crazy! We were due to do the ‘Tres Lagos’ hike up and round, but one part of it is steep and high, and the guides were advising not to do that part as it was quite dangerous due to the winds. So instead we did an 18km hike up and around. Still saw great views of the mountains and the glaciers and snow. Really enjoyed the hike actually as it wasn’t as hard as Torres del Paine (OR i’ve become an expert hiker, but i somehow think not!!)

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A windy pic!

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The next couple days were LONG bus days. First day we drove 10 hours to get to a tiny town (if you can call it that!) called Perito Moreno – though it was nothing like the glacier. It had nothing there so we walked around (took about 15 minutes!) had dinner in an average place we found and went to bed – sadly in a not great hotel! But a bed is a bed! Next morning and up early to continue the travel. This was a 13 hour day to get us to our eventual destination of Bariloche. About 4 hours in we picked up a couple of hitchikers who needed a bit of help – they were 2 israeli guys who were lovely and broke up the journey a bit as they were new people to chat to! But eventually we rolled into Bariloche and first impressions and very positive! It has a very different feel to the rest of Patagonia

Interestingly there’s no official ‘end’ to Patagonia so depending what map you use Bariloche is or isn’t part of Patagonia! It’s swiss in feel with lots of chalets and apparently the chocolate here is pretty good!

So we have a full day to explore tomorrow, so i’ll report back on what this city is like soon!

As ever, this trip is flying!

Next to look forward to: Pucon (where i will also have my secret santa dinner with the girls via skype 🙂 ), Santiago and then making my way to Buenos Aires where Nat (my sis) will meet me! Exciting times still to come!!!

x

The end of the world!

Mendoza was my first taste of Argentinian life and it agreed with me. I then decided to fly all the way down to the very bottom of the country and make my way back up through Patagonia. So I booked a flight to Ushuaia – called the ‘end of the world’ and got myself on a tour. I left 35 degree heat in Mendoza and that evening landed in 3 degree heat. Ouch!

Ushuaia is right on the edge of Argentina – and is a main port for people travelling to Antarctica, so is quite touristy. I checked the town out on Day 1 – and that took about 2 hours! I also visited the main museum which is housed in the prison. This was somewhat interesting, but with most of the explanations in Spanish and then very basic English, I didn’t learnt too much from that visit. They did however have a Penguin exhibition with the animals painted in different styles which I quite liked!

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I met my new tour group that evening. I’m now with Tucan Travel and there are only 6 of us for this trip actually. Me, and 5 Aussies! A couple (Stuart & Emily – in their 40s), Toni (my roomie – in her 50s), Dorota – or Dot (60s) and Annalise (70s). All nice enough and I’m confident we’ll have a good time over the next few weeks as we are all of the same attitude towards travel which is the main thing! There’s also Will (our driver) and Jo (our guide) who are cool. The powers of Facebook meant that I found out Eimear was also in town at the end of her tour, so we met up that evening. We went to an Irish pub for ‘ a few drinks’ with some of our current tour group too, and before you knew it, we were in a club celebrating some local guy’s 23rd birthday! It was all quite a random evening, but thoroughly fun, and it’s not often you can say you went clubbing at the ‘end of the world’!!!

I got back to the hotel at 5, and crept in quietly to not wake Toni up! But the next morning they all knew of my ‘big night out’!!! But I’m learning about them all slowly, and I’m confident that there will be other late evenings with them as they all largely seem to like a drink!

It’s certainly a small world, when one of your tour group – from the other side of the world- happen to not just know your cousin, but also have photos of them on their iPad! That was quite bizarre, but amusing to happen!

The next day I had a message from Keryn who was meant to be on a cruise to Antarctica but sadly her boat had major engine issues so had been cancelled on Day 1 and never left the dock. I felt very sorry for her, however there was a silver lining – for me 🙂  Keryn has kindly lent me her warm wear. From a thermal top, some rainproof trousers and most importantly her jacket – an amazingly warm goose down puffa thing. It’s big and perfect and SO warm and I am eternally grateful as it’s going to make the next 2 weeks significantly easier to cope with!!

We took a boat out onto the Beagle Channel and saw some cormorates (like penguins, but they can fly), some penguins and some leopard seals, alongside some snowcapped mountains in the distance. Freshest seafood and fish you can expect for dinner (delicious) and then back to the hotel.

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2 types of penguins and a leopard seal all just hanging out… as you do!

 

The next day took us to the National Park in ‘Tierra del Fuego’ where we did a 10k hike around the coastal lines. Really pretty and a good introduction to hiking in the cold! And then yesterday we started our journey up north. A 14 hour bus ride (including a few stops, a ferry crossing with mini dolphins and a border crossing into Chile) got us to Punta Arenas. It’s a fairly small city where we’ll visit a penguin colony and then make our way up to Puerto Natales – a city near to Torres Del Paine – a national park where we’ll be hiking and camping for three days. Wish me luck for dealing with the cold!!

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Very different outfit to previous posts!! brrrrr

 

A Jew(ish) introduction to Mendoza

Last Sunday I spent the morning in church on Easter Island… so it made sense to address the balance and spend some quality Jewish time this weekend!

Walking in Mendoza on Friday afternoon I came across a Kosher supermarket, so went in. Next thing you know, the owner jumped on me and started chatting excitedly in Hebrew. I used my one Hebrew phrase (Ani me deberet katsat Ivrit – I don’t speak much Hebrew) and that was it! It confirmed I was Jewish, and 30 seconds later I was being handed her mobile and was chatting to the Rabbi!

The rabbi was inviting me for Shabbat (the Friday Sabbath) that evening, however I already had plans with Sofia so I politely declined. But next was an invitation to an ‘asado’ (Argentinian BBQ) on Sunday with some ‘youth’. I was glad to hear that I was still considered youth, and so agreed to join them, espeically as Sofia was leaving me that morning!

Fast forward to Sunday and I made my way over to the Rabbi’s house. I wasn’t sure how religious they were, so didn’t know whether to wear a dress instead of trousers, or how much I should be covered up. In the end, my small travelling wardrobe made the decision for me and I opted for jeans with a smart (ish) shirt.

I got to the Rabbi’s house and was warmly received by him – with the sound of his multiple children shouting & playing in the background. Within the next 30 minutes more and more people arrived and next thing we were all split into 4-5 cars and were making our way to the asado. It was taking place in someone’s weekend cabin in Potrerillos – a 45 minute journey from Mendoza.

Once there, we were around 20 ‘youth’ and they stuck the meat on the grill. An asado is different to a BBQ in that it is cooked over a grill on an open fire rather than coal. There was a LOT of meat! And it was also interesting to see all the cuts available – in England, I’m used to seeing fairly standard cuts of meat – particularly kosher meat, but here they had everything! I wasn’t sure what any of it was (except for knowing it was kosher and from a cow!) but it was all delicious.

I chatted to a few people whilst out there; Argentinian Spanish has a very different sound to the rest of South America. It sounds nicer (an Italian lilt to it) but much harder to understand! A one-on-one conversation worked fine, but when it was a group and everyone chatting on top of each other I got completely lost!

Most of the group were in their mid 20’s, and all thought I was a similar age – so I didn’t feel the need to correct them 🙂 Most were still studying or had just started working. It was nice to be part of a group of people and just enjoy a lazy Sunday afternoon together

The most interesting aspect for me was the Rabbi. He had come over from Buenos Aires 6 years ago, and had been asked to ‘make a go of it’ in Mendoza. The city only has 4000 Jewish people, and actually many people don’t (or didn’t) even know they’re Jewish. In Jewish law, if your mother is Jewish they you are considered Jewish. Over 80% of Mendoza Jews have only one Jewish parent (their mother) and so most Jews marry out as there are so few people. However the Rabbi is trying to teach them about their heritage, history and get some traditions into their daily habits.

At the asado he briefly told the group about Channukah and the story behind it. Slowly but surely he is getting them to feel like part of a community – and it was really nice to see. One boy I met who was only 18 (Franco) had met the Rabbi 3 years ago and was really interested to learn about his history. He had chosen to have a Brit Milah (circumcision) 2 years ago and follow Judaism more seriously, so he is learning Hebrew and going to synagogue most weeks. His grandfather has written a story about his time during the Holocaust which he is going to send me too which will be interesting to read. It was also nice to see that every single one of them wore some form of Jewish symbol on their jewellery. For the guys it was a chain with a Magen David (star of David) and the girls either had necklaces, earrings or rings. It was heartwarming to see that they all felt strongly that Judaism was a part of their identity and they wore it on them with pride…. Something that I’m sure is largely down to the Rabbi’s work in the town.

I really enjoyed my afternoon and seeing how ‘real’ life is like in Mendoza for this small Jewish community.

Magical Mendoza

First city in Argentina has not disappointed! Sofia & I took the bus over the Andes from Santiago (beautiful scenery) and made it to Mendoza on Thursday night. We went straight to the B&B i had booked. It was a home from home. The owners were Mercedes & Tito – 70 year old cuties who had lived in the house for 50 years and turned it into a B&B rather than downsize once the kids left. It’s a gorgeous house, and they were so welcoming. We instantly felt at home – and they became our Argentinian grandparents for a few days! We went out for dinner and our first Argentinian steak & wine (mmm!) and went home happy!

Friday we scouted the city out – it’s a cute city with a number of pretty squares where you can sit and chill. There’s a pedestrian road with a number of shops and restaurants, and plenty of shops to pop into also. In the evening we had reserved a place at a restaurant that Mercedes recommended us. It also happened to be #1 on Trip Advisor, but it deserved that title.

The restaurant was called Ituzaingo and its what the Argentinians call a ‘closed door restaurant’. We’d probably call it a pop-up restaurant. The restaurant all takes place in this guys house. He basically hosts a great meal for a group of random people. The evening we went we were around 12 people. No menu. You just eat what you get, and are served drinks with each course. The only alcohol you choose is the red wine for your main, as Argentinians are very picky about what they drink!

We started with a fishball in some sauce – delicious little amuse bouche, served with an Aperol Spritz- type drink

Next was two little empanadas- one meat, one mushroom. Light, buttery and delicious. This came with a glass of sparkling wine

We then moved on to dinner where we had a choice of steak, pork, trout or gnocchi. We both chose the steak (rare) and then went to chat to the owner about which wine he recommended. The one we had (a Merlot in the end) was delicious and complemented the steak perfectly.

Finally dessert was some type of apple desert- which was served with a glass of champagne. So much food. So much alcohol, but a great great night!

Javier (the son of Mercedes) was also at the restaurant with his wife for their anniversary too! We decided that the next day we’d do a wine tour with him (its his job) so despite finishing a rather large night around 1am, we told Javier we looked forward to seeing him at 9.30 the next day!

Next morning, and up for the wine tour. We had some breakfast to line our stomachs and headed off. Javier is passionate about wine, and chose some great vineyards for us to visit – each one different.

First on our list was Carinae in Maipu – this vineyard is owned by a French couple. They bought it in 1998 as a relic, put it all back together and learnt from scratch how to make wine, eventually making their own wines. We were shown the machinery, and understood the process of making wines and what differentiates new and vintage wines. Then we tasted 5 different ones – ranging from young ones, medium ones and to prestige ones. All had very different tastes and all were interesting to try- but i wasn’t so into the oldest (and most expensive!) ones. I need to educate my palate more!

Next stop was Javier’s favourite – and in the end mine too. Domaine St Diego. This vineyard is owned by Angel Mendoza – a lovely man who used to work in one of the oldest vineyards, learnt the trade and then started up on his own. He is known as one of the masters of wine, and has turned it into a family business. What i loved about this place was we didn’t see one machine. Instead we learnt about the wine by walking through the vineyards. Understanding the impact of water, shadows, the leaves & the animals made for much more interesting facts. Plus our guide was happy to answer all my questions – however simple they were!

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Olive trees growing near the vines: we learnt how the shade impacts on the vines and what this means…
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The vines – all trussed up differently here as they’re in direct sun
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Different leaves = different grapes. Count the edges (3), and (if any) the holes in the leaves… interesting!
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These leaves – 5 edges!
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Water is scarce in Mendoza so its gov’t controlled… this water gate is opened 4 times a week – 10 cm for 5 hours each day. Very strict but a fair approach…

We tasted three wines here, and some olive oil they also made on site. Everything was delicious – i ended up buying a bottle of one of them. It was a sparkling wine made with red grapes that was absolutely delicious – like nothing i’d ever tried…

Next stop was lunch at a vineyard called Finca Decero – its a beautiful vineyard (where you can get married!) but it was a little too poncey for me! Plus we had 3 wines but learnt nothing – i was there to learn, not just drink!

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Our final stop was a one-man band winery whose name i forget. It’s a small place, where he (and a helper during the summer) work, and they make three wines. Always the same and always delicious. In 2009 he won a Prestige award for his wine – pretty impressive when you think he goes up against companies with hundreds of workers! He spoke no English but was a lovely guy who clearly cared about his wines!

By this point, Sofia & I were DONE! Tired, somewhat drunk and full from the food! We made our way back to the B&B. Sadly we had to check out as they were fully booked that night, but we moved to our next place and crashed on the beds! We wandered out a few hours later, but more a token wander than anything else! Bed was in order for us this Saturday night!!

Mendoza makes c. 70% of all the Argentinian wines, and its no surprise. They have perfect weather, differing altitudes and so can make a number of different types of wine. Its largely red (c.80%) but some whites every now and then. Based on our day, they make delicious wine and i now will be keeping my eyes peeled for Malbecs from Argentina – not too aged, and more American oak than French oak!! But with 6 more weeks to go i’m sure i can get a bit more palate testing in 🙂

The last 24 hours have been rather gluttonous with our big meal on Friday night (with drinks) and then today’s adventure so i shall be detoxing (or trying to) for the next few days to get some balance!!

But Argentina is living up to expectations!