Ladies and Gentlemen,
Welcome to the life, times and mind of the travelling duo that are Tarquin and Vanessa (collectively known as Banquin). Rather than give you a blow by blow account of the trip, this will be a collection of random thoughts and events. Hopefully you will enjoy it.
First to the title of the trip. A Capybara is the worlds larget rodent. As I am reliably informed (thankyou Mr Jones), the Capybara has been declared by the Pope to be a fish. The Capybara is not a fish, doesnt even look like a fish. It has been declared a fish so that the large numbers of religious South Americans who have nothing else to eat do not starve during Lent. Rather convenient. I intend to eat a Capybara, simply to see what this type of "fish" tastes like.
But on to the trip so far. We have slotted nicely into the routine of lying on beaches and having extened lunches involving the consumption of an inderterminate number of beers, the first of which has been captured on this new fangled "polaroid" as shown below.
On a side note, this beer is a VB. It is a VB because of the 10 beers that the restaurant offered on their menu, the only one they were stocking was VB. Odd character restauranteurs.
Two other quick stories before I leave you all alone. Story number 1:
On a bus from Stu's house to Bondi Beach. We were in a pair of seats as the bus begins to fill. An old man got on, wandered up to Vanessa and tapped her on the leg ... "these seats are for old people, not young people". Vanessa raised an eyebrow and looked around at the 15 other spare seats available to the man. She turned back in time to see the old man begin to vigorously point to the sign on the bus window which bans people from putting their feet on a seat, all the while nodding his head with conviction. Conceding defeat, albeit still unsure why, we rose and passed on the seats to the elderly man and his partner.
Story number 2:
We had to do it .... Coogee Bay Hotel .... gelati. We headed down to have a couple of quiet ales and a gelati at this culinary delight. We strode in chests out, keen to take on the best their kitchen could throw at us ...poo or no poo. Grabbing the menu we scanned down for the magical words. Gelati, where is the gelati. It was nowhere to be found. It would seem they had taken it off the menu. A disappointing end to the first of my quests for odd and/or famous foods. All we got was some seafood, chicken and chips. Hardly the stuff of great excitement but worth a photo for what it might have been.
Thats about the lot for now. It is only Sydney after all, we havent ventured into the wild and wonderful worlds of South America as yet. I am sure there will be more, but until then, in the words of the Pope "Its a damn fish ... look at it".
Having succesfully negotiated our way through the harsh climate and language difficulties of Sydney, we headed off to the land of sheep. Auckland was the destination, and a fine one at that.
The flight was uneventful, Mamma Mia was the movie which I chose not to partake of for obvious reasons. Arriving in Auckland, we were immediately inundated with questions about whether we were here for the Def Leppard concert. Having been unprepared for such questions we replied that we were not here for the concert. Thereafter we were noticeably shunned by all Aucklanders as if the word had passed around town.
Our time in Auckland was spent wandering around on foot between the quaint Parnell area and the inner city. The weather was good to start with, but turned progressively worse towards the end of our stay .. perhaps the NZ Gods' reaction to our Def Leppard shun.
Highlights of our stay included a trip to Rangitoto Island, which was born from a volcanic eruption about 600 years ago. Quiet interesting really, a good little hike up to the summit and also some interesting caves to explore should you be that way inclined .. although I would recommend you take a slightly better torch than we did. Also provided some quality views of central Auckland.
We also managed to get along to Minus 5, the ice bar which was started in Auckland and is spreading around the world. We had a particularly chatty barman, Tim, good bloke. Another one of those weird half Pom half Kiwi guys. Better bloke than the other half Kiwi half Poms I know. We were also priviledged to find out that little Johnny Howard has taken up a new role selling property in Auckland. How the mighty have fallen.
Thats about all there was for Auckland. A couple of quick facts before we go:
- Auckland seems to have far better sushi than Melbourne, which sent V into something of a lather and we had Sushi for dinner the first two nights.
-The average Auckland female is 5 foot 2, about 20 kilos overweight and looks like they have been struck by a truck repeatedly. Naturally some exceptions apply and luckily for Jesse this does not apply to all of NZ.
So we are currently in Santiago Chile, but I will write about that some other time.
Stay cool and in the words of little Johnny Howard "There´s no way thats a fish. What did you say, the pope said it was? Did George W say it was as well? That is definitely a fish then."
T & V
And finally, on to South America, the main purpose of our travels. But this story doesnt start in South America, the plane ride is the first point of interest. We checked in, and having discovered we werent sitting next to each other, we asked the lass with the rather vacant look in her eyes to find us seats together. She did this and sent us on our way. Time came to board and we jumped on the plane and found our seats. Then a flight attendant came up to us with a confused couple in tow. Seems our seats had been double booked. At this point it could have gone either way, luckily for us there were two very conveniently located seats in Business Class with our names written all over them. I initially described the upgrade as the single greatest moment of my life. Vanessa argued that meeting her was the greatest moment in my life. An argument ensued, before a compromise was reached and both moments were agreed to be in the top 3 incidents in my lifetime. Not sure what the third is.
Having partaken of all there is to offer in Business Class (it was all I expected and more), we arrived calm and refreshed in Santiago, Chile. We jumped aboard a taxi/ bus with a couple of lovely old Chilean ladies who gave Vanessa plenty of tips ... none of which I understood. We arrived at the hostel which was nice, small and friendly. However it would be fair to say there aint a lot to do in Santiago.
We climbed a hill with a castle...
Saw a guy sweeping the streets with a leaf, made me laugh a huge amount, although in retrospect its probably not that funny ...
Ummmm, went to a market ....
Saw a sign that reminded me of work (this ones for you Lee and Casey)...
And who would forget the protests. Many different groups with whistles and drums making a heap of noise...
Not a lot else to do or say really. I can probably summarise the Santiago leg of the trip into the following higfhlights..
- There was an old Chilean lady leaning out her window and spouting abuse to whoever would listen as they passed by. She was simultaneously throwing buckets of water at a car that was parked on the footpath. Yes ... buckets of water. Apparently she wanted the car moved.
- The river was browner than the Yarra
- We saw some graffiti with a chicken explaining that he was not a nugget.
- Vanessa started crying at the sight of a Chilean guy wearing a t-shirt that had english words he clearly didnt understand. We were sitting at a restaurant at the time. Yanks are weird. This came on top of her previous tearful episode at the news that gays had gained the right to marry in California. She is a very odd character.
And sadly, thats about all there is to report. Santiago is a nice, clean sort of place, but not a hell of a lot to do really. I am pleased to report that both my Spanish expertise and travel beard have improved. No Capybara as yet, but I am sure the time will come. Just one other thing, it seems the most famous person in Chile is a guy called Bernardo O'Higgins. Thats right ... O'Higgins. Half the city is named after him. Wouldnt have thought it was the most Chilean of names, but what do I know? Turns out he was one of their presidents who was the illegitimate son of an irishman. I hunted down his only known living relative, Fernando O'Higgins to ask him if the Capybara was a fish. He said something particularly fast in Spanish and then stormed off yelling, "Es un pez". Turns out Pez means fish. Maybe we are getting a consensus here.
The next leg of our trip was to Valparaiso, a coastal town a couple of hours west of Santiago. Caught a bus there, nothing exciting about that. Arrived and walked to our hostel. The street we were walking on ran parallel to one that was full of people protesting. Much better protest than those in Santiago. Thousands of people.
Really interesting place Valparaiso. Its built around a bay, on tremendously steep hills. The result is that there are amazing sets of stairs and small box cars called "ascendors" to help you up the hills.
There is also a tremendous number of stray dogs, eating a tremendous amount of rubbish which lays about the streets. Despite this (and possibly because of it), Valparaiso has an amazing character. The walls are covered with fantastic grafiti and its chock full of characters.
Our days were spent wandering the streets, just exploring the many intricacies of the place. As usual we have some odd stories for you, some good and some bad.
We met the greatest waiter in the world, at a restaurant on top of a hill. It was a place with a fantastic view that played excellent 1940's swing music. We decided that the waiter was worthy of a photo, so here he is!
Another childish highlight for me was the name of this doctor. Made me laugh for hours.
Also ran into a group of teenagers who had obviously snuck off from parental care and were consuming beers on an obscure set of stairs. Nearby was a young lass and her very young son (no more than 2 or 3 years old). The youngster was staring intently at the teenagers, and then every time one of them took a swig of beer, he would triumphantly exclaim "salud" - the Spanish equivalent of cheers. It was truly fantastic. I could have watched it for hours.
We also met a few good characters, a yank chick, a canadian guy and a gaggle of dutch chicks. We ended up spending a night getting drunk off litres of beer which cost about a dollar and playing some odd dutch card game.
The last day was spent on a day trip to a place called Vina Del Mar. Its the rich persons hangout in the area. Very nice and clean, but not a lot to do. We spent a few hours there, got bored and headed back. Reminded me a bit of the Gold Coast really.
On the downside, our last night was ruined by a couple of particularly loud and obnoxious Polish guys. We had to catch a bus at 5 in the morning, so the plan was to get up at 4. An early night needed, we were in bed with the lights out at about 9. Almost immediately the Polish guys started talking. For some reason there was the need to repeat everything 3 times, and then repeat again in German to prove that the speaker was fluent in German, Polish and English. One such conversation particularly took my fancy. It went a little something like this..
Polish Guy 1 - Take a look at this photo.
Polish Guy 2 - Shes cute.
Polish Guy 1 - Shes a guy
Polish Guy 2 - No way
Polish Guy 1 - Its true, my friend told me.
Polish Guy 2 - I do not believe you.
Polish Guy 1 - Its true, thats my friend with her in the photo.
Polish Guy 2 - There is no way that is a guy.
Polish Guy 1 - I am telling you, it is a guy.
Polish Guy 2 - That is not a guy.
At that point Polish Guy 1 called over a third person to adjudicate. The conversation was repeated almost word for word. Keeping in mind this was all done at just below screaming level directly outside our bedroom door. Good times.
Having not slept, we got up at 4 and wandered through the streets of Valparaiso to the bus station as drunk 18 year old Chileans wandered past or yelled abuse. We made it relatively unscathed and caught the bus to Santiago airport for our flight to Buenos Aires.
Chile over and done with and good times had. Now for Argentina, who knows what will be in store in that crazy, crazy town. Naturally, I finished our time in Valparaiso by asking around about our friend the Capybara. I asked the Polish guys, one of whom was convinced it was a fish and one wasnt. As far as I am aware, they are still arguing about it, although neither of them has thus far come up with any evidence to prove their point.
Until next time, Fare thee well.
Where to start with this section of the trip. So much has happened ... but how to summarise it all into something that people will actually want to read. We have been to three places since I last wrote. Much of our time has been spent in Buenos Aires, with trips to Colonia (Uruguay) and Iguazu Falls (north-eastern Argentina).
I will start with Buenos Aires. We spent a total of 6 days here, broken up by the two other trips. BA is huge, and looks suspiciously like a European city. Much of our time was spent wandering to the different suburbs of the town, simply exploring all that there was to offer.
Our time started on the positive side, we wandered around the suburbs of San Telmo, with its famous antiques market, and La Boca (literally The Mouth). San Telmo on a sunday is packed with people selling everything you can think of, together with tango shows, food and drink. It is amazingly colourful and busy. La Boca is famous for a small section known as the Caminitos. The buildings themselves are quite spectacular ... unfortunately the place has been touristised beyond belief which spoiled it somewhat.
The next day was a disaster. I would love to tell you a story about chasing thieves through packed railway stations, jumping the lines, evading knives thrown with venum etc. Unfortunately what really happened is I got pick-pocketed and never even noticed. Unfortunately we were on our way to pay for some further trips, meaning my wallet was packed with money and cards and everthing else thieves enjoy. We spent a few hours looking through rubbish bins at train stations, a humbling experience during peak hour, but came up with nothing. Luckily V still had a credit card and a bank card at the hostel, so we werent entirely screwed.
Our remaining time in BA, before and after the other trips, was relatively lazy. The biggest news was probably that we sighted Capybaras. Unfortunately they were at the zoo, but they were Capybaras nonetheless. Highlights (including the Capybaras) as follows:
- Ugi´s Pizza. This is a chain of pizza stores which sell ... well ... cheese pizzas .... and nothing else. The first time we went there we wandered in and asked for a menu. The man pointed at a freshly cooked cheese pizza. Given no other option, we ordered it. At that point the man started waving a bag of green stuff that looked suspiciously like marijuana at us, asking if we wanted some on our pizza. We said yes, unsure what it was but sure it would add flavour to the cheese. Turned out it was just oregano. You win some, you lose some.
- The Capybaras. They were in their own little section of the zoo which comprised a large body of water, with grass and pavement around its outskirts. To my surprise (given they are supposedly fish), every single one of them was to be found pressed up against the fence, as far as possible from the water. I overheard one Capybara ask another whether he was up for a swim. The reply cannot be printed given the number of expletives used.
- Steak. If you ever have the pleaure of finding yourself in Argentina, eat steak and lots of it. I´m not sure what they do to it, but I have never tasted better in my life.
- Discovering I had become the maker of fine leather goods. A proud moment.
- And a guy who can sleep in places I simply cannot.
- And for the work people. The Swan will live forever in my heart, but it is not the only place that puts bones in its chicken.
- For sports buffs, we wandered past one of the better known soccer stadiums in Argentina, home of the Boca Juniors. This team was once the home of the hand of god himself, Diego Maradona.
- We visited Evita´s grave (the young lass who is a cult hero in Argentina and was once ably played in a movie of the same name by none other than Madonna). There are two things to note here. The cemetary is packed with Argentina´s finest. We built a small grave in honour of the loss of my wallet. Thus my wallet now keeps exalted company. The second thing to note is the cemetary is the only place we have seen cats on our trip. Proof that they are evil? I will let you be the judge.
Colonia is a small town in Uruguay a 3 hour ferry ride from BA. It is set up for day trips, and based almost exclusively around the tourism trade. The town is quaint, small houses that have been there forever and cobblestone streets. It has a range of nice looking restaurants, of which we chose what turned out to be a mediocre one run by a guy who may have been a used car salesman. Not a lot else to say about the place really. We spent a good amount of time towards the end of the day watching a mime perform to nobody. It was about 36 degrees, poor guy must have been ridiculously hot. Thought briefly about wandering over to give him some loose change but couldnt raise myself from a nice shaded spot we had found under a tree.
Iguazu Falls was amazing, truly one of the more wonderous things I have seen in my lifetime. It is located in the north-eastern corner of Argentina, at the intersection with Paraguay and Brazil. We got there and back via buses which took about 19 hours each way. This wasnt nearly as bad as expected as the buses were comfortable and played a number of pretty decent movies. The falls themselves are indescribable. We payed for a tour which took us on a jeep ride through the jungle and a boat ride up the river and underneath the falls. The jeep ride was a bit of a disappointement as the animals were all hiding. The boat ride was brilliant and included a quick skirt over the top of some rapids and close to (and underneath) some of the falls. We got absolutely soaked and loved every minute of it. The rest of our time was spent wandering around to the various lookouts that are available. The photos will do a far better job of describing the falls than I can, so here they are:
We also celebrated the time honoured american tradition of thanksgiving, a day which traditionally comprises eating hideous amounts of food (including a lot of turkey) and drinking copious amount of alcohol. We tried to find turkey and make ourselves a thanksgiving feast ... instead we found chicken nuggets, canned vegetables and at $3 bottle of wine. Good times.
Our next point of call is Bolivia, where I expect more tales of fun and frivolity. In the meantime I can only provide you with the following points of wisdom gained during the last week or two:
- It doesnt matter how smart you think you are, pick-pockets are smarter.
- Rubbish bins have stuff in them that you never, ever want to see.
- Go to Iguazu Falls at some stage in yur life.
- East meat in Argentina at some stage in yout life. Lomo, not the cheap stuff.
And in closing I will only say the following. I have seen Capybaras with my own eyes, they are not fish and I dont care what the Pope, a string of Presidents and Prime Ministers and obscure relatives of dead dictators say. Its an oversized rat. I will give you no more quotes from people who have been otherwise misguided as it will only make you lose faith in them.
Fare thee well my friends.
Bolivia was a country we travelled through far too quickly. Despite the many travel warnings, we found it to be a very interesting and overall quite safe place ... but then, we stuck to the tourist areas. We started out in Santa Cruz, where we had arrived by plane from Buenos Aires. We only had about 5 hours there and so we decided to simply chill at the bus station until it was time for us to leave. We did, however, decide that we needed some food for the 19 hour bus ride and I was sent off to find a market for supplies. Utilising my superb Spanish skills, and after a good solid hour wandering the streets, I managed to purchase a can of peaches and a packet of biscuits. Brilliant!
We eventually boarded the bus to find it had no aircon and we started sweating almost immediately. As we set off we also realised that the bus lacked somewhat in the stability department. Any bump caused the bus to sway viciously, resulting in the driver slowing down to nigh on standing still to rectify the situation. Things were looking good for a 19 hour bus ride through the Andes!
We woke up a little later to find ourselves up in the mountains and it was freezing cold. Our sweat had turned to ice on our bodies and the swaying of the bus was no better. A few hours later and the small girl in front of us began to throw up. Shortly after that her mother followed suit, followed closely by the lady in the seat next to us. Interestingly the lady next to us decided against the use of a bag and just threw up on the floor. As we had the very back seats we were surrounded on all sides by vomit. Good times ... and only 4 hours to go!
We eventually arrived in La Paz, the highest city in the world (so says the guide books). It is located in a huge bowl, such that everywhere you walk is either up or down a hill. This makes life rather difficult when you are suffering from altitude sickness, albeit that we only had mild cases.
We had a heap of fun in La Paz, wandering around making small gift purchases through the witches market and chilling with food and drink aplenty. It was interesting to see the dried Llama fetuses and the odd drinks which looked to have a cut off ear floating in the bottom of them. Neither of us ventured to try this delicacy. We also wandered over to La Paz prison, the scene of "Marching Powder" which should be read by all who are going to travel to Bolivia ... or just if you like reading. It was also fasinating to see how the roads worked. Basically thousands of buses and vans (which acted as buses) roaming the streets with people yelling their destinations as they went.
After a few days of relative relaxation in La Paz, we headed on to Copacabana. This is the springing point to Isla Del Sol, the birthplace of the sun in Incan mythology. We spent a day or two in Copacaban, went for a hike on Isla Del Sol and shared a boozy night with a couple of Kiwi travellers. We also began our experence of Coca leaves. These are used to offset the effects of the altitude, although they are better known as the raw product used to make cocaine. Coca leaves remain legal in only Bolivia and Peru.
Copacabana is a cute little town, ridiculously touristy but fun nonetheless and well worth the visit. Isla Del Sol was a little disappointing though, and the 3 hour boat ride out there was less than comfortable.
After our days spent in Bolivia, and with some regret at not having seen more of the place, we headed off by bus to Peru and our much anticipated Inca Trail trek. Vanessa was particularly excited about her long awaited return to her motherland.
And thus ends another episode in the life and times of the travelling dynamic duo. Until I write again, Stay well and enjoy your boring, non-travelling lives!
We arrived in Cuzco the day before we started the Inca trail. While we prayed for good weather, it started bucketing down outside. Things werent looking great. The locals just shrugged their shoulders, it always rains at this time of year.
Cuzco is a wonderful little place. The oldest continuously habitated city in the world (another guide book fact). The central square is very touristy and seemed to be filled with military parades for much of the time. Away from that area though there were wonderful little art shops and bars aplenty. There was also Benbo's, a fast food chain which we ate on the recommendation of V's uncle. Not bad either, and Inca Kola is well worth a try as well.
However our initial stay in Cuzco was short as we were off to the Inca trail early the next morning. After meeting our fellow trekers rather sleepily on the bus at a hideous time in the morning, and then enduring a rather tight bus ride to the starting poing, it was all go.
There were 14 trekers in total, made up of a couple of aussies, a couple of kiwis, a couple of yanks, a couple of canadians, a couple of dutch, a couple of irish and us. Turned out to be a fantastic group of people. The first days hike was relatively flat and easy going. We saw the first of our incan ruins and got into the swing of carrying a backpack. While we complained about the pace and the weight, the porters basically ran past us carring 5 times the weight ... all 5 foot 2 of them. Our guide (Freddy) also showed us how to make a lovely ink like substance by squashing bugs. He painted a sunset on V's hand!
That night, after a couple of quiet beers, we took on the porters in a game of 5 on 5 soccer. We actually acquited ourselves quite well and ended up drawing the championship game. I even managed a couple of goals.
Day 2 was nigh on hell. It is a 12 km walk with a rise of about 1300 metres. There are steps aplenty and the pace becomes slow at times. After bolting through the first two parts of the walk, V and I took it easy up to the highest point, Dead Womans Pass. I also experiences a small bite, which I was informed was probably just a scorpion. Yay! Despite the difficulty, the view from Dead Womans Pass was unforgettable. Here we had a drink of some hideous alcohol to celebrate the occassion, and left rocks we had carried from the bottom as a gift to Pachu Mama (mother earth). The last hour was a steep downhill.
Day 3 contained a string of variously steep and gentle ups and downs as well as a number of Incan ruins. It was an enjoyable day and we all talk it quite easy after the trials of the previous day. We ended the day at the final campsite, which actually included a bar and restaurant type set up. We walked down to some nearby ruins where we ate popcorn and drank sangria while sitting and watching the sun lower over the ruins. An unbelievable experience. That night we also enjoyed a birthday cake for one of the kiwi boys who would be celebrating his 19th birthday by arriving at Machu Pichu the following day. This was the culmination of some amazing meals cooked up by our chef along the way.
The final day was the race to Machu Pichu. It involved an hours walk at close to a run to reach the sub gate as early as possible. Our group were up early and secong in line at the start and we managed to largely hold our position. The sun gate gave us our first view of Machu Pichu.
From there we wandered down to Machu Pichu itself. While I could talk for hours on the place, I will largely let the photos do the talking. A couple of highlight though:
- The amazing stonework.
- Up close encounters with the Llamas that wander around the town.
- The climb up Wayna Pichu. This is an incredibly steep climb of the mountain beside Machu Pichu. It offers amazing views of Machu Pichu and surrounds.
- Running into a bear just before the climb up Wayna Pichu. Our guides said they see a bear about once every 3 - 5 years. To say we were lucky would be am understatement.
- Everything else about the place. Awesome.
Unbelievably, as we jumped on the bus to head back from Michu Pichu, it started raining for the first time on the trip. We arrived back at Aguas Calientes and had lunch and a heap of beers to celebrate the end of one of the most rewarding experiences of our lives.
The following day, back in Cuzco, we had arranged to meet up with our fellow trekers and go and watch our guides play in their annual soccer tournament. We ended up drinking a heap of beer, eating home cooked chicken and potatoes and playing a couple of games of soccer just for good measure. The day ended with some impromptu dancing with the locals.
An awesome day ended an awesome trip and we finished up with a meal in an irish pub and some final beers before saying goodbye to our Inca Trail travel partners.
If I sound a little over-excited about this section of the trip ... its because I am. Do it some day ... please.
Next stop Lima and V's extended family. See you all then!