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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Mendoza, Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls, Argentina (and also Brazil but shhhh I was an illegal)

After the 13 hour bus through the Andes we finally arrive around 3am into Mendoza and got a taxi to the hostel. Now to all the hostel owners that I am friends with I truly appreciate it when I get to a hostel and the middle of the night and the bed is made so thanks for that. The only place on this trip so far where that hasn’t been the case is Argentina and that was only in some places. Still no big deal, but trying to make a bed at 3:30AM in the dark with 5 other people trying to sleep is not fun! That still was not the problem of the evening. The problem was quite simple actually when you have bunk beds like most hostels do in South America if there is not a step at the edge of the bed please provide a ladder to get up to the top bunk. Case in point would be in Mendoza when I almost killed Eddie. Since there was no ladder I grabbed onto the side of the mattress and tried to pull myself up which actually worked out the exact opposite because I pulled the mattress off the bunk and almost fell over. I was laughing hysterically at this point and had to leave my room to recover and then finally made it up there to pass out for a few hours. Nice way to introduce myself to the guy I was going to end up traveling with for the next 2 weeks. That morning got up not wanting to waste the day and took off so we could experience what Mendoza is famous for which is it’s wine. If you go to Mendoza you have to hit up Mr. Hugo’s and rent a bicycle for your wine tasting session. Yes, you read that right wine tasting and bike riding. I don’t know who came up with this combination but it always ends hilariously. We started out with 3 of us Eddie the Kiwi Firefighter/ topless waiter/ Spartacus extra and Sander the flying Dutchman but could it be our wolf pack was at 3 and grew into a bike gang of 9 adding 6 Englishmen and women. It was quite the gang as we ended up drinking a few bottles of wine at the Trapiche Winery, which is the largest winery in Argentina and has some delicious Malbec wines. After that adventure decided the next day to go white water rafting in the Andes mountains. While it wasn’t the roughest rapids I’ve ever been down, class 3, the scenery more than made up for it! It was absolutely incredible and had an amazing time and met some great people. The next day took off on the night bus to Argentina, the buses in Argentina are quite something if you get the Full Cama or Executive Cama. You get fed dinner as well as a small bottle of wine to help you sleep through the cold night and a seat that retracts all the way down as if you were in bed. Since Eddie and I were headed to BA (Buenos Aires) for the weekend we knew we were in for a big party so we decided to get ready by watching the movie Project X, it was a good idea and got us ready for a few epic nights. If you are going to BA and want to stay at a party Hostel I would recommend Milhouse as it was clean and if you want to party they know how to do it. While in BA I was also able to attend Argentina vs. Ecuador World Cup Qualifier soccer match as well as visit Recoleta to see the amazing cemetery and go visit Bocas to see the Boca Juniors stadium and see the amazing colors and neighborhoods and the Tango Dancers in the street. Let’s get down to what is really important about Argentina and what it is known for which is it’s beef. I had without a doubt the best steak of my life at a restaurant in Palermo called La Cabrera and if you go between 7 and 8 it is their happy hour and you get 40% off your meal. This was my last meal both times I was in Buenos Aires the first time leaving to head up to Iguazu Falls and the night before I left for South Africa. The bus up to Iguazu was cold and since we got semi-cama we did not get blankets so that sucked. As soon as we got into town we booked into our hostel and headed out to check out the Argentina side of the falls. It was amazing to see how powerful the Pachamama (Mother Nature) is. The falls were incredible and we were told that we could skip the Brazilian side as the Argentina side was better. I am so glad we didn’t skip it because it was absolutely amazing! I liked the Brazilian side much better the endless rainbows and how you could go out into the middle of the falls to experience the sheer power of them was amazing. After Iguazu headed back down to Buenos Aires for a final night of partying in South America so headed back to Milhouse and ran into about 5 people that I had met in Peru a few months before. It was an epic night and a great send off to South America. The next evening headed to the airport for the next leg and next continent of my journey as I was headed to Cape Town, South Africa....

Mendoza, Argentina Pictures
Buenos Aires, Pictures
Iguazu Falls, Argentina
Iguazu Falls, Brasil

San Pedro de Atacama, La Serena, Valparaiso and Santiago, Chile

After completing the Salt Flats with amazing people for the previous 3 days it was time to move on, so our group split in half and Alex, Julia and I crossed the border into San Pedro de Atacama, Chile and had a speedy ride down from 5000 meters to 2000 ears popping the whole way. Once we got past customs we were introduced to Fabian who brought us to a hostel with wifi internet and hot showers, for those of you who know me or have met me travelling it's the little things that make me happy and after not showering for 3 days tthrough the freezing cold salt flats I was ecstatic. A hot shower and the ability to change into shorts and walk around in the desert was a huge change of pace and quite amazing at that. The next day we ended up renting bicycles and riding out to Valle de Luna for a nice casual 5k bike ride which turned into about 15k (jajajajaja Alex). Valle de Luna for those of you who don't know means Valley of the Moon and it was like being on the moon in the massive craters and vast landscape of mountains far off in the distance. Once we got out to the checkpoint we went spelunking in the salt caves. Now I don't know if I can consider myself a true spelunker as ìt was not a deep underground cavern but it was good enough for me to consider myself a novice. After the ride back to town we went and got ready for our night bus to La Serena about 12 hours south of San Pedro. If you are taking buses in Chile I recommend Turbus or Pullman as some of the buses have powerpoints (electrical outlets) and most have wine available. We made it into La Serena and went on a tour to the observatory and it was pretty amazing to see the southern sky and learned how to identify the southern cross and a few of the other constellations I had not been able to identify before but the cool thing was being able to see the Rings of Saturn which were very clear that night. After that made it back to the hostel to get ready for a tour through Valle de Elqui the next day which is famous for its pisco distillery's and vineyards and they have every right to be famous for them because it was delicious. Ended up buying a couple of bottles which I ended up enjoying in Valparaiso a few days later. The valley was very beautiful and the sunset over the mountain on the way back was incredible. It also signaled my time in La Serena was at an end and I was going on a bus the next morning to Valparaiso which is a port town on the chilean coast about an hour outside of Santiago. It is known for its street art and unfortunately when I got lost and found the art I did not have my camera with me to capture it so I guess you will have to discover it yourselves. Valparaiso was a nice chill place with a great party scene and the hostel I stayed at was always a party we cooked dinner together, drank together and went to a random make shift concert down the street well the last 30 seconds of it. The highlight of my time in Valparaiso was the day I was leaving it was a national holiday and the president of Chile made an announcement where people expected him to lower education costs, I think this was the reason at least for what happened next, well needless to say that is not what happened and the people took to the streets. Now I've seen riots up close and personal in the states before but damn the Chileans know how to riot. The police had them pushed back and then everything flipped there was tear gas everywhere and it was a war in the streets and the police were easily outnumbered 3 to 1. Well I had to walk to my bus from the opposite side of the riot through the middle directly to the heart where the bus station was which was across from congress. Before I left the hostel  the owner looked at me, put a hand on my shoulder and said "Buena Suerte (Good luck)" thanks Gonzalo, so off I went and was stopped by police in riot gear several times along the way asking me where I was going and what was in my massive backpack. All I had to do was quote my good friend Volle Grimminger I simply told the police in Spanish "Estás Bien, Estoy una tourista! (It's ok, I'm a tourist!)". So I safely got onto my bus and took a ride to Santiago and got on there metro system which was equipped with free wifi and very efficient. I made it to Aji hostel where met a ton of great people and had a great time in Santiago. Now at this point in my trip I had not cut my hair and the beard had not been groomed recently so I was looking like a wild man of sorts. Well with that being said I decided to wear a scarf that night (apparently my new hobby is collecting scarves, don't worry I don't get it either). The guy that works at the hostel came up to me in front of the whole group I was drinking with and told me I reminded him of an actor. I was not on my A-game as I had been drinking some delicious Chilean wine so my curiosity got the best of me and I asked him who, he quickly replied Alan from the hangover and I was not too thrilled with this until my good friend from London Town, Nikin, told me to embrace it! Which I did 150% like I do most things and the quotes kept coming the whole night and had the Alan walk down to a T. It was an epic night that will not be forgotten. Santiago had so much to offer between the food and restaurants to their very tumultuous history with military coup and revolutions and bankruptcies to nobel prize winners and coffee with legs. Well after a week in Santiago it was time to move onto Argentina so I took off with Sander (a dutchman who enjoyed wearing speedos and crocs) and we hopped on bus to Mendoza in Argentina the first day after the border reopened due to snow in the Andes. Our supposed 6 hour bus ride was delayed with our 7 hour border crossing in the Andes. Tip for all of South America most buses are great and for the most part mine were on time but you need to go into a bus ride with the expectation that your trip will be twice as long as they tell you so if you do arrive on time or only a few hours late you will be happy! More to follow in the next update about Argentina. Cheers and Safe Travels everyone!

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile Pictures
Valparaiso, Chile Pictures
Santiago, Chile Pictures

La Paz & Sal de Uyuni, Bolivia

Made it into La Paz on my Birthday after the 7 hour bus ride with a short ferry ride to get the bus across Lake Titicaca which was a fun site to watch. Made it to the hostel where I met up with the Welsh boys Andrew and Chris for what was going to be an evening to remember! Now for my birthday I wanted to get some good American food in La Paz so I did what any person in my situation would in this day and age, I googled it. Well as soon as the results came up it listed there was a Hard Rock Cafe in La Paz and I was keen for it. So I convinced the Welsh boys to come with me and we flagged down about 4 cabs before we got into one that knew where this mysterious Hard Rock Cafe was. Well once we got to the corner of where it was we got out of the cab and realized that this was not an ordinary Hard Rock Cafe it was a fake! Unfortunately I was unable to experience this fake Hard Rock as it was cold so we headed down to Plaza San Francisco and headed out looking for a place to eat. We stumbled onto a restaurant called La Casona and it was once of the best meals I have had on this trip. From there hit up the two party hostels of La Paz which are the Wild Rover and Loki. Met up with some folks at the Wild Rover and wrangled a few of them to join us as we switched and headed over to Loki. Once at Loki the bartender found out it was my birthday (as well as 2 other people there and one of which the same year) so he decided to drop a tequila shot into my rum and coke and told me I had to chug it. I told him that if I did that I would puke well we all know what happened then... I did what any responsible 28 year old seasoned pro would do..... I gave into peer pressure and took as much of that drink to the face as I could. Until I threw up at the bar. My bad... Now at this point I am very embarrassed and against my better judgement I opted to stay out since I was convinced that it is my birthday and that no one back home would ever find out about this event as well as no one there would ever see me again so who cares right. I stayed out and had a great time after Loki we all headed out to a Bolivian dance club for a few hours and in the wee hours of the morning my translation skills were needed at the Infamous Route 36 cocaine bar. Now let me clarify that I do not like Cocaine or do I use the stuff but I was up for the experience of visiting a Coke den, you know just to chalk it up as a learning experience. So off we went to this club that was more like a vault than anything else and played loud techno music. The people at the club were making fun of the group I was with and I have to admit it was pretty funny what they were saying in Spanish. After being there for too long and watching the festivities I knew it was time to get out of there. So I threw in the towel and called it a night and headed home to sleep off a hell of a 28th birthday. The next day decided I needed to experience some of the tourist attractions of La Paz which in my case was walking with the doctors who were protesting for better wages as well as hit up the witches market which had spices and potions and herbs for all sorts of things you can’t even imagine. The big surprise that I was not expecting was the llama fetuses which were apparently used in ceremonies when building a new house for good luck they were buried underneath the foundation a very interesting tradition to say the least. After La Paz headed down to Uyuni to take a tour through Sal de Uyuni which are the largest salt flats in the world. I went on a 3 day tour with Alex, Julia, Mena, Geri and Mandy and it was great with our driver Herman it was pretty cool. I’m still pissed the driver didn’t have toys. The bus down to Uyuni was freezing and Uyuni was freezing as well. The trip started and we went straight to the train graveyard and onwards to the Salt Flats. Now it would have been incredible if the salt flats were wet but it was still amazing. So much fun taking the pictures we did, a lot of fun trick photography. From the salt flats we headed out to a salt hotel for the night and then onwards to different color lagoons which ended up being Flamingo central. We saw mountains of different colors and rocks that looked like trees. It felt like we were on another planet at times. I had no idea that Bolivia had this to offer let alone that there were places on this Earth that looked like this. Our group split in half and Alex, Julia and I went onwards to Chile and Mena, Geri and Mandy went back to Uyuni. It was onto the next Country and the next part of the adventure.

Arequipa and Puno, Peru

Got into Arequipa with Prav, Kat and Tricky Ricky and made it to our hostel Home Sweet Home. We went exploring around Arequipa and made it to the Plaza de Armas  of course... for those of you who haven't been to Peru the Plaza de Armas is the main square and there is one in every city you will go to. We tried to figure out what our next move was everyone had decided that they were going to hike the colca canyon but I decided to move on to Puno which is the Peru side of Lake Titicaca which is the highest lake in the world. It is also very massive. I took a tour to the Islas Flotantes which are literally floating islands that people live on that you can pull up anchor and float to another spot if you don't like your neighbor. A whole new meaning to pulling up stakes. From there headed over to Taquile which is an island in the middle of Lake Titicaca with a long walk uphill at 3700 meters it makes it quite a difficult walk. Made it up and over and then back to Puno to get ready to take a bus the next morning on my birthday to La Paz, Bolivia and the next leg of my trip.

Arequipa, Peru Pictures
Puno and Lake Titicaca, Peru

Huacachina, Peru

After the 30 hour bus ride from Guayaquil to Lima the next day hopped onto a 6 hour bus down to Ica and then took a taxi to Huacachina which is an Oasis in the middle of the desert in Central Peru. Never in my life have I been surrounded by massive sand dunes in the middle of the desert. This town is known for its sandboarding, dune buggy riding and crazy parties. After meeting some interesting characters on the bus ride I was happy to be able to change groups of people I was hanging out with. A special shoutout to Prav, Kat and Tricky Ricky!!! Went Sandboarding and Dune Buggy riding the next day which was epic!! Don't mind the pictures of the naked guy Ollie is just crazy... Sandboarding is the same as snowboarding in case anyone was wondering just a lot slower and more hiking. A tip for dune buggy riding don't ride in the back if you are taller than 5'5" because you will hit your head all the time. The party that night turned into a crazy dance circle around random objects people kept throwing into the middle of the circle, the bar being set on fire several times and people disappearing for several hours at a time and showing back up randomly as you were trying to leave and begging you to stay. Finally left before sunrise so we could attempt to hike up the dune to watch the sunrise.... made it up a little less than halfway and called it good. Left that night to head onto Arequipa with the crew. Huacachina was good times!!

Huacachina, Peru Pictures

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Guayaquil and Montanita Ecuador

Guayaquil is the largest city in Ecuador and has some interesting activities. The river walk is pretty nice and the mall del sol has a hooters that I did eat at. Montanita is a crazy beach party town about 4 hours up the coast from Guayaquil and parties go from 7 at night till 8 in the morning.  The beaches are amazing and the surf is great. I can't say more than that but if you want to feel 21 again go and take a trip down there it's a great time. Not much more I can say on that subject other than my pictures won't do it justice and you need to experience it for yourself. I brought Aleen's Birthday here and it was  a hell of a party! After Montanita I took off back to Guayaquil to catch a 30 hour bus to Lima.... Very intersting to say the least.

Guayaquil and Montanita Pictures

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Galapagos Island (Tropical Paradise)

Flying out to an island in the middle of the ocean has kind of eerie feel to it. It was great knowing I was headed to a dream land full of boobies. It was even better when land was spotted and descending into this tropical paradise. When you fly into the Galapagos you have 2 options. You can fly into Baltra or San Cristobal. I flew into Baltra and took the connecting bus to the ferry to the island of Santa Cruz. From there you take another bus for about 45 minutes to Puerto Ayora. Immediately after getting off the bus I took off looking for a travel agent to set up a cruise. Found one and haggled on the price like is customary to do in all of South America. Got it down to an acceptable price and booked it. Later that same night I booked into Darwin Hostel and got myself situated because I was leaving the next day for the Island of Isabella for 2 nights there. Met up with my buddy Nick Gauen who I had met in Cali, Colombia a few days before. I tried to convince him to come on this tour with me and was unsuccessful in my attempts. His loss, yeah buddy just called you out! I was having doubts about the tour because I had booked a 4 day cruise starting in Santa Cruz going to Floreana, Espanola and San Cristobal. I came to find out the first day of the cruise does not start until 2pm and on the last day ends around 10am. I was disappointed to find this out but convinced myself to have a great time anyways because it was going to be epic, which it certainly was. The next day took off to Isabella on a speed boat with a group of 16 and got to the island and it was pissing down on us. I was soaked and it was amazing! Regardless it was still paradise. It cleared up around an hour later and we were taken to a lagoon  to check out some flamingos and then to the beach to watch the sunset. What an amazing day! That night met for dinner with my new friends who came on the rest of the tour with me: Rona, Noa, Shir & Yarden. The next day we got into our limo which was a truck with a row of benches instead of a bed and headed up to the base of the volcano which we were going to hike up. We hiked up the volcano to the rim of the massive crater which was 10 kilometers wide at it's widest point. Unfortunately it was not clear when we got up to the top but you could see how massive it was. Headed down the volcano and then got ready to go snorkeling. We headed out towards some small islands where I was able to see tropical penguins, blue footed boobies, sea lions, and so many more animals. The snorkeling was amazing but the walk around Isla Tinturos legen......wait for it......... dary!!!!!!!!! The Marine iguanas look like Godzilla. The next morning took one of the roughest boat rides back to Santa Cruz. At first it was pretty funny watching Yarden and Noa get bounced all over the boat  and then it was just the most ridiculous 2 hour boat ride of my life. Made it back to Santa Cruz and got set up for the next 2 days of relaxing and hanging out with lonesome George and hangin out on the beach. Met up with the group of people that we were going on the cruise with and headed up into the highlands to see some giant land tortoises and then onto the Aida Maria which was the name of the boat that I would spend the next 3 nights on. We took off that night to head onto the Island of Floreana where we would arrive the next morning. This was the first time I had slept on a boat overnight since the Navy and had some crazy Submarine flashback dreams. We got into Floreana and hiked up to the lookout point which was an amazing view of the whole island. We then dove down into a lava tube for a quick swim in the ice cold water which was amazing. Then headed to Post Office Bay which is a barrel that has been replaced many times since it was first put up by whalers in the late 18th century. It was used as a post office for mariners you would put in your post and deliver what was in the barrel if you were going to where it was addressed. I put in a few post cards for back home and hopefully the ones that I sent back to the states through my sister made it to their correct places. After that went snorkeling off the beach which was incredible then back to the boat and onto the island of Isabella the next day for even more animals and snorkeling. After seeing albatrosses, blue footed boobies, nasca boobies, marine iguanas, sea lions, frigate birds, sharks, and a  ton of different fish it didn't prepare me for how close you could get to these animals. Absolutely amazing!! After the cruise ended on the island of San Cristobal (where the sea lions had completely taken over the island) spent a few more days there before flying back to mainland Ecuador. What an amazing experience and met some amazing people. Check out these pictures and hopefully you can make it there some day....

Galapagos - Santa Cruz
Isabella - Galapagos
Cruise on the Aida Maria
San Cristobal, Galapagos