Daily Archives: November 4, 2014

Travel Journal - SALTA – ARGENTINA (Rosie & Nick)

Oh, Salta, how I love thee.  To us, Argentina just kept getting better as we headed further north.  Salta is a charming town.  It has a central plaza surrounded by colonial buildings and is chock-full of souvenir shops.  It feels touristy, in a European way, but I felt more at home here than anywhere we had stayed so far.  I also suddenly decided I wanted to buy a lot of souvenirs, but managed to quell the urge (thankfully for our budget!).

FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF SALTA

Our overnight bus from Cordoba arrived in Salta at around 8am.  We took a taxi to our hostel, and our driver really set the scene.  Music blaring, cheerily shouting out of his window to the other taxi drivers (for all we know he might have been yelling abuse) and careering around the corners, he instantly made us feel invigorated about this new city.  Checking into our hostel so early meant that we didn’t have a room yet, so off we went to explore, despite our lack of sleep.  We arrived in the plaza as people and pigeons were heading to work.  We avoided the bread-sellers and took a wander down some pedestrianised streets.  Aimlessly heading east we happened upon Parque San Martin with its teleférico, or cable car.  With the tourist mood upon us (and conveniently forgetting my fear of cable cars) we purchased return tickets (AR$70/US$9 per person) for the 1km, 8 minute ride up to the top of Cerro San Bernado.  There is a great view of the city on the way up, and at the top are waterfalls, kiosks and viewing spots.  Had we been better prepared we might have known that it’s easy enough to walk back down and saved ourselves the return ticket.

At the bottom of the cable car in the park there is a small tourist market.  We took a wander through here, I bought some sunglasses, and wish I had bought a very twee painting of an Andean girl with shiny pink cheeks on a teal background.  We ate at a market food stall, traditional Argentinian asado, or barbecue.  Argentina is famous for its barbecued meat, and it is indeed fantastic, although be warned portions are large and not accompanied by vegetables. 

TOURS AROUND THE SALTA REGION

For our stay in Salta we decided on two full day tours (it was a good deal to buy 2!), the first to Cafayate and the second to Salinas Grandes.  We booked these tours with our hostel, the cost was AR$570 (US$72) per person for both days.  They had early-morning pick-ups at the hostel, and returned at around 6 or 7pm.

The tour to Cafayate took in the Quebrada de las Conchas, or Shell Gorge.  This gorge is named so due to the large number of marine fossils.  This whole region used to be the Pacific seabed (a little while ago!), and was lifted up due to tectonic plate movement.  The result is fascinating rock formations, with beautiful coloured layers representing different geologic periods.  For example, we could often see a dark green layer in the rock – this is apparently composed of seaweed fossils.  We made three stops along the way.  The first was to La Garganta del Diablo (The Devil’s Throat), a large gorge with windswept (or waterswept may be more accurate) high walls, formed from a beautiful orange-red coloured stone.  Some of our group scrambled up a rock face and walked up into the gorge.  Our second stop was at El amfiteatro (The Amphitheatre), another large and tall gorge in the same golden hues.  There was a small band playing, and the acoustics were impressive.  Our guide, Leo, told us that the Argentinian Symphonic Orchestra have played here, what a marvellous setting.  Our third stop was at Tres Cruces (Three Crosses).  They were erected for three bishops who were important in the area.  The crosses themselves were small but the views from here were spectacular.  On the rest of our journey various rock formations were pointed out to us including “the giant empanada” (we didn’t have enough imagination to see this one), a frog, the Titanic and a Friar with his congregation of followers.  

We stopped off at a winery on the outskirts of Cafayate before being taken into the town for lunch.  Cafayate is a small town with an open, colonial feel.  Based around its central plaza are many restaurants and cafes, as well as some souvenir markets (I picked up a cute crocheted llama purse).  There are hostels here and it would be a relaxing place to spend a few nights, and a good base for treks to the surrounding areas.  

Our second day tour took us in the opposite direction, north of Salta and past Jujuy.  We made a stop outside the town of Purmamarca to view the Cerro de los Siete Colores (Hill of Seven Colours).  The geology is similar to the Quebrada de las Conchas.  Many layers of rock formed in different colours, which are striking to see.  From greens and teals to reds, oranges, pinks and even violet, the hill behind the town is actually stripy   From this photo stop we drove up into the mountains.  We had a second photo stop at the highest point in our journey, at 4170m, where we saw lots of vicuña.  They are a protected species, with a high value on the black market.  I’m unsure whether this value is for their fleece or their meat, but our guide told us they can fetch  AR$500 per kilo.  Therefore poachers come and hunt them, so there are a lot of police around searching vans and buses for evidence of vicuña poaching.  

On the other side of these mountains we saw the Salinas Grandes open up before us, white in the sun.  This salt flat is 32km long and 9km wide.  Our bus dropped us off pretty much in the middle, and we had a 30 minute photo break.  We failed to take any cool “tiny person” shots with our trusty toy VW camper van.  Perhaps due to poor technique or maybe the object was too small – our guide Eva tried to help us but no luck!  The salt flats are…salty…and very bright.  They are formed when annual rains wash minerals down from the surrounding mountains.  The water is evaporated leaving a new layer of salt each year.  

We headed back over the mountains to Purmamarca for some lunch.  Afterwards Nick and I took a walk up a road at the back of the village into the hills.  There was nobody else around and we had some good views of the interesting rock formations and colours.  We then wandered around the plaza in the centre of Purmamarca, with its abundance of souvenir stalls with enticing bright colours.  Having exercised a great deal of physical restraint we settled on purchasing our very own salty llama – a cute little llama carved from salt.  

WHERE WE STAYED:

Hostal Coloria, AR$186 (US$24) per night for a double room with shared bathroom.  This hostel was pretty good value.  It is in a good location a short walk from the main plaza.  It was a bit noisy in the evenings and at night – our room had an internal window out to the open living area, where people talked and watched TV until the small hours.  We could also hear the doorbell ring all through the night.  The bathroom was ok, and the showers were hot.  Breakfast was quite good – a selection of breads or cereals, with juice and hot beverages.  Most of the staff only spoke a little English.

HOW WE GOT THERE:

Our overnight bus from Cordoba to Salta took around 12 hours, and cost AR$536 each (US$70).  Our tickets were purchased through Mercobus, but the bus itself was a Plus Ultra bus (owned by the same company).  We had upstairs seats, which were very comfortable.  We could recline almost flat, making for a relatively restful journey, and were given dinner and breakfast.  My only complaint was a lack of seatbelt – slightly concerning being in the front row upstairs!

By Rosie and Nick

Travel Journal - CORDOBA – ARGENTINA (Rosie & Nick)

We took an 11 hour bus ride from Mendoza, arriving in Cordoba on a Sunday night. Along the way the scenery varied drastically.  After a few hours of very poor, dry areas of scrub and desert we passed through a very pretty little town with colourful adobe houses and two guys riding in a 3-horsepower cart.  We then arrived in the hilly, almost alpine-feeling and touristy towns surrounding Cordoba.

Cordoba is the second-largest city in Argentina.  It is known for its historic central district with beautiful buildings, in particular the Jesuit quarter.  In the centre of this area is Plaza San Martin.  It’s a great little spot for people-watching, complete with obligatory dude-on-a-horse (covered in pigeons) statue.  We visited the helpful tourist information centre located along one edge (Indepencia) where we were given maps and tips on day tours out of the city.

Cordoba is compact enough to walk around.  We explored the historic area with its paved pedestrian streets and then headed down the main diagonal road (Av Hipolito Yrigoyen) which has beautiful buildings, museums  and art galleries.  We visited the Mueso de Bellas Artes Evita Palacio Ferreyra (AR$15 entry),  located right down near the park.  It had some beautiful landscape paintings by Argentinian artists as well as some more…modern…exhibits featuring nudity and ropes.  Since the descriptions were in Spanish it was entirely lost on us!  I really enjoyed a small exhibition on the top floor made up entirely of post-card-sized images (many used as actual postcards). I’m kicking myself that I didn’t write down the artist’s name (in my defence, I was extremely hungry by this point).

We also visited Parque Sarmiento, which honestly isn’t much to write home about.  The lions aren’t very helpful with directions and it was a bit dirty and scary-feeling.  There were some pretty ducks, though.  The tour of the old University campus in the historic district is supposed to be good – we tried to go but the tour times were 30 minutes earlier than we read in the guide book so we missed out (they also don’t run on weekends, so we didn’t get a chance to go back).

We stayed 5 nights in Cordoba, so had enough time to take a couple of day trips out of the city.  The first was to Mina Clavero, a Sierra town with rivers and beaches, and the second was to Villa Carlos Paz.  We caught both buses from the main terminal in Cordoba – but from the newer, second terminal building, not the one that the long-distance buses operate from.

The bus to Mina Clavero was about 3 hours, and cost AR$67 per person each way (US$9) – we went with Ciudad Cordoba but they were horrendously late both ways, so we had a lot of waiting around.  The scenery is spectacular – the road goes through a national park, and climbs high into the Sierra where condors can be spotted.  Being on a public bus however we didn’t get to stop for photos, which was a real shame.  The town itself is nice.  There are lots of places to eat and drink and some souvenir shops, and the river going through the town is pretty.

We found Villa Carlos Paz somewhat underwhelming.  We had read that it was a cross between Las Vegas and Disneyland but the only thing remotely Disneyland-ish about the place was the swan boats.  Yes, you heard me – glorious, fibreglass swan boats with little paddling feet at the back.  They were the only good thing about the town in my opinion – it was a grey day however and not much was going on.  The main street has bars and restaurants and lots of souvenir shops.  It had a  more commercial feeling than Mina Clavero, but the lakefront didn’t have the cafes and prettiness I was hoping for.  The bus ride was one hour from Cordoba, and we went with Fonobus (AR$16 per person each way; US$2.30).  They had very frequent buses and you just hopped on the next available one, rather than booking a seat on a specific timed service.

Cordoba has a nice vibe to it.  We felt safe walking around (except for in the park but we might just be paranoid!), and we enjoyed the relaxed feeling in the evenings as people wandered around before dinner (which is served late in Argentina – like 10pm-is-early late).  We must confess to having ice-cream for dinner on a couple of evenings as we were too tired to stay out late!  The ice-cream was very good though.  We would recommend taking day-tours rather than going it alone to outlying towns, just so you can stop for photos of the great scenery and perhaps get to some less central locations (such as the beaches around Mina Clavero).

OUR ACCOMMODATION IN CORDOBA:

Mate Hostel, on General Alvear, AR$185 (US$24) per night for a double room, shared bathroom.  We liked this place – it doesn’t have great reviews so we were a bit nervous but it’s really good value.  The staff were friendly – particularly the Venezualan guy – and the breakfast was pretty good.  The wifi worked really well, and our room was large.  The only downsides would be the noise from the street at night (either everyone in Corobda is a boy-racer or they just have terrible, noisy cars) and the bathroom which often had a very wet floor and paint (and sometimes plaster) coming off the ceiling.  We liked the location – close enough to walk everywhere (even to the bus station at a push) and we felt safe walking around after dark.

BUS FROM MENDOZA TO CORDOBA:

We took a bus with Cata Internacional from Mendoza, AR$438 (US$57) each, approximately 11 hours.  I think there are faster buses that go a more direct route…we were comfortable enough though, just in the regular seats upstairs.  They brought us brownies and lemonade about 3 times but no lunch – we bought sandwiches from a vendor who came on board.

By Rosie and Nick

Travel Journal - VALPARAISO – CHILE: A DAY TRIP TO THE PORT CITY (Nick & Rosie)

A historical port city

Valparaiso (or Valpo to the locals) is a port city just over an hour outside of Santiago, Chile.  Well-known for its colourful buildings on steep streets it’s a popular day-trip from the bustle of the big smoke, or even for a couple of nights as part of a trip up the Chilean coast.

The historic quarter of Valpo has UNESCO World Heritage status due to the preservation of around 5 neighbourhoods on hills surrounding the flat, less interesting city centre.  Valpo thrived in the late-19th and early-20th centuries as a major port on the Pacific Coast of South America, however when the Panama canal opened in 1914 development slowed and the buildings from this era have remained largely untouched.

Exploring Valparaiso

We only had around 4 hours in which to explore Valpo.  The bus terminal is located at the Eastern edge of the flat part of town, which really isn’t anything to write home about.  Our first impressions were of a dirty city with too many people sitting around with too little to do (although it was Saturday!), and we didn’t feel very safe.  We headed along Pedro Montt and ended up at Plaza Sotomayor, trying to avoid the port area which we had read was dangerous, and didn’t look very nice anyway.  We eventually headed up a small cobblestoned street and found a restaurant with a set lunch for 3,500 Chilean pesos each (AU$6.90/US$7.30).  This included the famous Chilean drink pisco sour, which was indeed sour and reminded us a little of tequila.

Emboldened somewhat by the pisco, we continued up the hill (Cerro Concepcion) after our lunch, and discovered the Valpo we had seen on the postcards.  The buildings are old, cute and colourful, every second one a restaurant or hostel.  We felt much safer up here than in the city centre, and were quite happy to mill around the streets and lanes, happening upon viewpoints and cool graffiti.  Valpo has lots of ascensors, little lifts that take you up the hills, but we just walked around without finding it too strenuous.

We felt more relaxed on our walk back to the bus station, and stopped at a plaza for a spot of people watching, feeling somewhat smug with our survival skills.  All was going well until a man sat next to us…who had a chainsaw.  He proceeded to try and start the chainsaw, before being joined by his friend…who had an axe. Time to go and get our bus!

Valparaiso – what you need to know

We definitely think Valpo was worth a visit, but if you’re like us (with poor Spanish and not much time) it’s probably best to take a tour – it would be worth paying a bit more to make the most of your time and see the best parts of the city.

How to get to Valparaiso: We traveled from Santiago with Turbus – head to the Terminal de Buses Alameda (next to the Universidad de Santiago metro station) to buy your tickets.  Services are frequent and the journey is 105 minutes.  Our return journey cost 14,800 Chilean pesos each (around AU$30/US$28).

by Rosie and Nick

Travel Journal - Santiago de Chile - in 3 days (Nick)

Santiago – Day 1

From the airport we jumped in a shuttle van and headed to our Airbnb accommodation. I was half expecting to 1. be driven to the Los Vatos Locos gang headquarters and robbed of everything we had or 2. be dropped off at a laundromat (I’ve read stories of people who booked online only to find out the place doesn’t exist). We made our way through Santiago dropping off the other travelers, including this one peculiar Canadian bloke in his mid forties who liked to play with the doors, windows and anything else he could get his hands on. We were in the back so he couldn’t get his hands on us, luckily. The drive from the airport took us through some tough looking streets and I was really hoping we would be dropped off at a laundromat because the first scenario was looking more likely at this point. Thirty minutes and $25.00 later we arrived at our stop, Nunoa, Santiago. Nunoa is about a 15 minute bus ride from the Santiago CBD. The streets are lined with trees and colourful houses. The birds were chirping, men in orange high-vis vests were heckling an attractive young woman and dogs were sleeping on the streets in the midday sun…seems legit!

Paula, our Airbnb host, appeared in her Ford Fiesta waving to us as she parks up. For $45 per night we were welcomed in to her home, a 7th floor, well kept, two bedroom apartment with views of the surrounding mountains and CBD area from the balcony. The room is small but we get our own bathroom and space in the kitchen for our food. Paula is friendly, super helpful and speaks English. She let the building attendant know that we gringos don’t speak Spanish so he greets us in English for the next few days as we come to and from the apartment.

We had a quick nap to soak up some of the jet lag and ventured into town to grab some food. We walked past KFC and Subway and hit up the Shell service station for some light snacks. I was pretty stoked, I got through the entire transaction using just three or four grunts. Tomorrow we will try and catch a bus to the CBD.

Santiago – Day 2

After pulling off a huge victory yesterday at Shell we were ready for another day. Truth be told, just the thought of having to try and talk to someone had my heart racing..anxiety not excitement…but none-the-less we’re here for an adventure so off we trotted down to the BIP centre to top up our bus cards. I was a bit ‘puffed’ from the walk so let Rosie head up to the counter to do the business. 3000 pesos on each cards thanks! 6000 on one and 4000 on the other haha. We’re not sure what happened there but we’re ready for the bus now, let’s go. On the right bus, off at the right stop and here we are standing in front of the government palace.

There were armed guards patrolling the perimeter but one was busy posing with tourists for a photo so maybe it’s just for show. Oh look! It’s time for lunch. A busy stand-up diner with businessmen hunched over their plates scoffing empanadas and beer before heading back to work for the afternoon. Rosie spotted something on the menu she recognised so we had these pastries filled with cheese, not bad. I spotted a little shop run by an old woman pedaling Red Bulls. Dos Red Bulls thanks. Boom! We were off, checking out all Santiago had to offer. A small brown river, a fish market and a gang of amorous stray dogs filled up the rest of the afternoon as we wandered the streets.  Maybe we should have got a tour..

Back on the bus heading home we were feeling bold. “Let’s go to the supermarket”. So we did. Up to the checkout with our bread, nutella and nectarines. *Beep* *Beep* *Beep*. That was the sound of an impending transactional disaster. I accidentally skip the part where I’m supposed to enter my PIN! No worries, I’ll just sign the receipt. Receipt signed. The man looks up and speaks at me. I wasn’t sure what he wanted but it was in Spanish and probably a question that required an answer. Grunting wasn’t going to get me through this one. I quickly realised that I had taken back my credit card so he couldn’t verify my signature. I whipped it out and handed it over. Nope, not what he wanted and he hands it back. There’s an old bloke next in line, he’s loaded all his groceries behind ours and he’s not looking impressed. Rosie tells the counter guy that we don’t speak Spanish and also throws in an apology. Top work babe, I’m proud. He’s looking super flustered now and calls for a workmate who can speak English. No takers but a woman comes over and rather confidently starts up a game of charades. Now we’re talking! The line behind us is four strong but I don’t make eye contact, that would be a rookie’s mistake. The woman points at the receipt where it says “I.C” and then with her hands, refers it to the 3rd umpire (cricket reference: draws a square in the air with her hands). I think she wants some ID. Rosie rustles around in her bag and finally pulls out my passport. They flick through the pages, checking out my stamps, looking for something but they never find it. She hands the passport back to me and walks off. Charades can be hard but you can’t just give up and walk off. My sisters would do that back in the day but this has consequences, I want a nutella sandwich damn it! We stand there awkwardly not having a clue what to do next. The young bag packer just hands us our goods and says “not important”. It all seemed pretty important 10 minutes ago when you started the whole thing! Well, the groceries were paid for, we took them away, that’s a successful transaction and a pretty good day really.

Santiago – Day 3

So Kathmandu sold us the wrong plug adaptor for Chile. Paula, our host, has sent us to Easy, a big hardware store like Bunnings. We can hardly order food but we’ve decided to go searching for something that would be a mission in English let alone Spanish. Like a boss we boarded the bus and headed to Providencia, a 20 minute journey. I like it here, it reminds me of Lambton Quay back home in Wellington. It’s an upmarket, trendy and busy commercial area of the city. Everyone is dressed immaculately, the buildings are massive and shiny and the streets were kept very clean and tidy. The only downside were the homeless dogs roaming around. One particular mutt who we named ‘Sneaky Dog’ was tailing us for a good 10 minutes. I swung around to see how close Sneaky Dog was. He’s clever though, he pretends he’s not following us and saunters over to the fountain to get a drink. Two minutes later he’s on us again…Fair play to you El Sneaky Dog. He’s met his match though, Rosie and I split up, cross back over, loop around a lamppost and by then he’s lost our trail..or he wasn’t following us at all. Needless to say but we didn’t have any luck finding an the correct adaptor. We headed home, tails between our legs, for a nap.

Dinner time is fast approaching. Burger King it is! Rosie orders with a confidence not yet seen on this trip. Numero dos, mediano, con Pepsi and numero nueve, mediano, con Pepsi. “This is too good to be true”, I’m thinking and sure enough the lady says something. Rosie looks unsure so I step up to the plate. In a high pitched, nervous voice I say, “pepsi?”. The lady grabs a pen and paper and writes down the price. I hand over the money and move aside to wait for our order. I can see her talking to a work colleague, *mumble mumble mumble* “Pepsi!!” and they burst into laughter. I could only laugh I suppose. “That will be $7.50 thanks”…”pepsi”.

We’re not going there again.

 by Nick

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