Jul 7 11


by Emily Benjamin

Santiago was a chilly 3 degrees when we landed, but although the following days remained cold, the weather was sublime. Clear skies gave us the view of the mountains that I had hoped for, surrounding the entire city. The best view of the mountains was from San Cristobel, with the sun setting over the expansive city within the valley. Back down the mountain and the streets are filled with trees, colourful graffiti and locals – there was almost always a table of rowdy students drinking at midday, playing their guitars and harmonicas. For two days we walked around the city, mostly through the centre of town and Bella Vista, accompanied by locals, tourists and hundreds of stray dogs. Friendly stray dogs, though – they are cared for by the locals and in winter, offered jumpers and blankets to stay warm. To keep warm ourselves, we sampled honey roasted peanuts and hot dogs layered with tomato and guacamole. At night, we rugged up some more and enjoyed the night life, with steaming cazuelas and sweet but terrifying terramotos. I was sad to leave Santiago (especially at 3am for our flight to La Paz) but I’m sure I’ll be back.

Filed Under → Travel
Jul 6 11

Te Amo, Santiago!

by Emily Benjamin

I love Santiago. There, I’ve said it. The city, the people, the surroundings are all beautiful. The mix of foods, the options for sight seeing and the freezing cold air – I love it all. And this is after only one day!

Knowing we have only two full days in Santiago itself, with the rest of the time being spent in Valparaiso and Easter Island, we made the most of it with an early start on Saturday. Franco from Free Tours Santiago met us in the Plaza de Armes for a four hour walking tour of the city. The sky was blue, it was a crisp 5 degrees, and it was one of the very rare days that the mountains were visible. Not just any mountains – the Andes, surrounding the entire city. Together with about 10 others, Monkey and I got shown Santiago by the experts, and Franco was excellent. I could recite the entire tour here, and take up a few hours, but to be honest I probably missed a lot of the details about the history of Santiago. Check with Monkey’s post though, because he has a better memory for these things. As for me – I was distracted, as usual, by the colours and lines and sights to see. Beautiful streets lined with trees of golden brown leaves, old buildings, new buildings, parks and graffitied walls – it was all stunning. And even better with the backdrop of mountains, snow capped and clear, although a little hazier as the day went on.

Besides the beautiful sights of the city, here were the two big highlights from the tour:

- Dogs rule the city. Most Chileans, excluding the government, believe the city belongs to the dogs and the people just get to live there, too. And there are dogs everywhere. We saw some wearing clothes, so we figured they weren’t all strays, but apparently they are. Locals will dress the dogs, especially now in winter, with spare jumpers and jackets that they no longer wear. During the World Cup last year, Santiago’s dogs were dressed in Chilean jerseys and hats – how I would have loved to see that! And the dogs are all friendly. They will follow big groups, or sit with you in the park. They won’t pester you for food – because the locals will feed them. And dress them, and even vaccinate them. These dogs are well looked after!

- The coffee in Chile was always very bad. So in the 60′s, a Venezualan man introduced something else to entice the coffee drinks. Enter Coffee on Legs. Cafes where you can be served coffee (still poor quality, apparently) by scantilly dressed women. Tight dresses, short skirts, and a smile in exchange for an average coffee and a tip. A few of these popped up, but more recently business has been slow at these original coffee shops. Competition set in, and now you can get, er, less bang for your buck. Behind blacked out windows, female baristas now serve you still-average coffee in their underwear. Suspenders, g-strings and corsets – far more riske than a tight dress or short skirt! And to make the shop even more enticing, they offer a Happy Minute four times a day. For that minute, the ladies will take off their tops and dance on the bar. You don’t know what time these Happy Minutes are, though – so you can assume there are probably a few people in there, sipping on their 10th coffee, hoping for a topless performance. Sounds like a strip club, right? Exactly – it looks like a strip club and night club in one, but only serving coffee. Not that I went in there, or anything…

The tour finished at 2pm so we made our way back to the hostel for a rest. On the way back, we picked up a traditional Chilean hot dog, and a beanie. Random combination, right? Let me explain. Santiago has a high population of students, in particular in the Bella Vista area where our tour finished. Here you have heaps of hot dog stands, serving mostly the same thing. Not just sauce, onions and cheese – these bad boys are topped with diced tomato, thick guacamole and tahini, plus whichever sauces you wish to add. There isn’t room for much more though – the bun is already overflowing with toppings. Honestly, there was at least a whole avocado on my hot dog, which alone would cost $3 in Australia (or 2 for $5!). But these delicious snacks are only 800 Pesos – about $1.60. Delicious – next time I’m trying the ‘As’ which replaces the sausage with beef steak – om nom. Secondly (that’s right, there was a second point!) I found myself an alpaca beanie. My ears had been freezing all day, but now they are toasty warm. Hot dog and warm ears make Emily Benjamin a happy girl!

In the afternoon, still wanting to make the most of our time in the city, we took the funicular up Saint Theresa for a view of the city and mountains. It was stunning – see attached. We left just before sunset, as the mountains started to glow pink and gold from the sun. I was so happy to see the mountains, after reading numerous posts about the haze and pollution in Santiago. But luck was on our side, with 360 degree views of the Andes surrounding Santiago. Absolutely gorgeous.

Now we’re heading to Easter Island for Monkey’s birthday present. What does one get the man that has no home? A weekend away in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, that’s what! We’ve got two days here to enjoy hiking and volcanos and seafood before heading back to Santiago to visit the rest of the city. Phew, this whole post was just from one day?! I must be inspired!

Cheers, Em :)

Filed Under → Words
Jul 5 11

Easy Life on Easter Island

by Emily Benjamin

I never thought we’d get there. Easter Island, about 4000 km from the coast of Chile, and more than that from the next bit of land in the Pacific Ocean. The only airport I’ve been to that sees only one flight a day – so no excuses for flight delays, woohoo! But Easter Island was on ‘The List’ and it was my special treat to my special Monkey for his 30th birthday. That’s right, world – Jamie Talbot is 30! So we set off from freezing Santiago on Saturday morning, and arrived on Rapa Nui by midday. Our lovely host Marcelo would be our go-to guy for the next 48 hours – he owns the Kaimana Inn and Restaurant, where we slept on the comfiest bed I can remember and ate a delicious lunch and dinner. Once we were fed and ready, it was off to explore the first corner of the island, with Marcelo at the wheel.
We first had a tour of the only town on the island, Hanga Roa. He tells us 95% of the island community live here, which is a few thousand people. A few more are scattered over the island as farmers. But on a clear day, you can see from end to end. The island is in a triangle, totalling about 160 square kilometres, with a volcano on each corner – the highest being just over 500 metres. Our first stop was Rana Kao, on the southern end of the island. A giant crater, now filled with water and reeds, right on the edge of the coastline. From there we walked around the crater to the other side, and checked out the islands where tribes used to host the bird man competition each year. They would camp out on the hill waiting for the call of the bird, then climb down a cliff, swim out the island, search for the birds egg, swim back, climb back up and be awarded the Island King for the next year. Oh, that’s if they survived the freezing waters, didn’t lose or break the egg on the way, or even found the egg in the first place. Not a very simple treasure hunt it seems! But it came with the privilege of naming the next king, and you’d have a pretty sweet life for a year if you’d got him there.
Just before sunset, Marcelo dropped us off at our first Moai’s, about 10 minute walk from where we were staying. We sat there for about an hour, watching the sun go down and taking heaps of photos. You know the sort…
6:15pm – Wow isn’t it amazing! Look at the colours!
6:21pm – Ohhhhh! It’s so shiny!
6:23pm – Look now! It’s so much shinier!

6:32pm – WOW! That’s the best shot yet!
6:45pm – Shoot. Ran out of space on my memory card. Yeah, ok, I think we have enough sunset shots now.
Good news is that we took enough photos to tide us over, with no need to go out the next night. Phew! That night we went to a traditional Polynesian show, with about 12 local dancers. It was energetic and entertaining, and as it’s only on a few times a week I’m glad we got to see it! But by the end it was 11:30pm and we’d been awake for 21 hours, and I was knackered.
No rest for the wicked though – we were up at 6:30am for sunrise. It was cool again (not as cold as Santiago though!) but warmed up quickly – mostly because we began jumping over moai’s in the sunlight. I know it seems lame. But at least we’re not planking, right? Anyway, for the whole day we explored the rest of the island, including some of the more famous Moai on the north east of the coast. Here we saw a few hundred Moai all in one spot, including some unfinished ones. The site, at the base of a volcano, is known as the Moai birthplace, where local tribesman would carve the moai from volcanic stone. Eight to twelve months later, when finished, they would slide it down the mountain carefully, ready to be transported to it’s chosen location. No one knows how, though – maybe over palm trees, maybe by water. But there were many than never made it, now left here at the base of the volcano.
By afternoon we were exhausted again, and took refuge in our room to clear our memory cards and get some editing down. Which is why I am able to bring you these photos within 24 hours of returning to Santiago – and with over 600 photos to edit, that is no mean feat! Here, though, I’ve got a collection of photos of Monkey and I, exploring the island. We had an absolute blast, and although we spent almost $1000 in two days, NOT including flights, and blew our budget, I’m very glad I got to see it. There is already one $1000-a-night hotel on the island, and in years to come, there will probably be many more. So see it while you can! Enjoy – Em :)
PS. If jumping photos of Monkey and I isn’t your thing, go and have a look at the rest of the photos of Easter Island, and let me know if it’s on your list now, too :)

Filed Under → Words
Jul 5 11

Easter Island

by Emily Benjamin

What a piece of paradise. Easter Island, or Isla de Pascua, or Rapa Nui as it is known locally, is so far out in the Pacific Ocean, that it was no surprise to me when Google Maps struggled to find it. But LAN Airlines know exactly where it is, flying there only once a day from Santiago. We arrived at noon on Saturday, and spent the next 48 hours exploring the island with our guide Marcelo, owner of Kaimana Inn and Restaurant. For the first afternoon, and all of the next day, we saw most of the 168 square kilometres of the island, including sunrise, sunset and a traditional polynesian show. Oh, and a few volcanoes, but fortunately not the famous, currently erupting one! I won’t admit how many photos I took, but this is my biggest set yet. And if you’ve taken the time to view this post, I encourage you to go the distance until the very end!

Filed Under → Travel
Jul 4 11

Polynesian Show on Easter Island

by Emily Benjamin

I couldn’t fit these shots into the first post, but didn’t want to miss them out, either. The local polynesian show we saw was excellent – full of energy, strength and colour. I took the colour out, though – the bright yellow, green and red lighting wasn’t doing them justice. Enjoy the show!

Filed Under → Travel
Jul 3 11

Risks in Rio

by Emily Benjamin

Rio was big on my list. I was so excited to see the harbour, Sugar Loaf, Christ the Redeemer, and see if I could capture some of the colourful city in the nine days we were there. But as soon as we arrived at our B&B in Ipanema, our host spotted my camera bag and suggested I leave it at home. What? Leave my camera here? What would be the point of that?? Not getting it stolen apparently – even in broad daylight, on a weekday, at the Botanic Gardens. I’d read Rio was bad, but I was surprised.

We later realised that Ipanema was tame compared to where we stayed next, in Lapa. We met a couple that had been mugged just two days earlier and had their money, camera and even their Lonely Planet stolen. In daylight, in Lapa. So we now had to be even more cautious. But if you go straight to the tourist spots, by cab, you’re apparently safer. It’s walking around that will get you. On the third day, the weather had cleared and we were off to see Christo Redentor atop Corcovado… along with ever other tourist and caroica in Rio. We didn’t realise our visit coincided with Corpus Christi, and were met with huge delays and lines to get to the top. Eventually we made it JUST in time for sunset, and slowly wedged ourselves between hundreds of others to get views before the light faded. All the while squeezing my camera bag around me, of course.

The view itself was pretty amazing. I do wish we’d been in one of the helicopters buzzing around, because there were certainly way too many people visiting that day. I now consider myself an expert of people management at touristic sights, because I’ve seen a few. Angkor Wat, Alhambra, Stonehenge and Petra are all very well managed – restrictions on numbers or even having enough space to cope for people is a big part of it. Some of the sights in Barcelona, and certainly Corcovado here in Brazil, however, require a bit of re-thinking. But that won’t happen, because the private drivers that charge a little more than average to whisk you up the mountain will lose their business, and I don’t think any Brazilian will take that lying down. Unless they’re already lying down atop Corcovado to take a photo, like the 20+ people we saw doing it that afternoon, being trod on by everyone else.

The other big sight we were looking forward to was Sugar Loaf Mountain. Or as a young French girl might say, Sweet Bread Mountain – her translation from Pane Sucre. Sugar Loaf did not disappoint – a prime position in the bay, it has 360degree views of Rio de Janeiro but without the hoards of tourists at Corcovado. And the view is just as spectacular, if not more so. Sticking with my theory that certain sights are better from below or afar (the list includes Eiffel Tower, waterfalls and lighthouses to date) the view of Christ the Redeemer from Sugar loaf is potentially better than vice versa. Sugar Loaf isn’t as high, but the view is still great. And maybe the most important advantage of Sugar Loaf over Corcovado? Monkeys!

We explored Lapa a bit more in the next few days, but also caught up on some reading and resting. Oh, and eating of meat. I have loved the return to red meat here in Brazil, after the cold cured meats of Spain. Here you can get every meat, on huge skewers, just lightly rubbed in salt and then BBQ’ed. Absolutely delicious, and even better once we found a restaurant that prices meals by the weight. One night we paid R$120 for dinner, the next we had the same meal but for R$25. Bargain!

Overall, Rio wasn’t the party paradise I expected it to be. But feeling unsafe is certainly not an aphrodisiac for a country. Being the photo-nut that I am, I was too scared to head out with my camera, for fear of losing it. It’s insured, and we’re covered for theft and mugging, but it would be a huge inconvenience to have my camera taken, right before Machu Picchu. A day at the police station to lodge the paperwork, days to sort it with insurers back in Australia, and no real certainty over getting a replacement – not much fun. So I went the cautious route, and as such I have the same tourist-y photos as most people. Maybe next time in Rio, I’ll learn enough Portuguese to tell potential muggers where to stick it if they try to get me.

Now we’re out of Brazil and in Chile, getting ready to board a plane to Easter Island! And if it’s as good as they say it is, I’m extra glad my camera wasn’t stolen :)


Filed Under → Words
Jul 1 11

Rio de Janeiro

by Emily Benjamin

I had high expectations for Rio de Janeiro (surely I’ve said that about somewhere else before?!). I remember planning our time here over a year ago, and begging for more than a week to explore the city famous for Christ the Redeemer, Sugar Loaf Mountain, a spectacular coast line, all your can eat meat restaurants and, well, Brazilian women. But within 12 hours of arriving, I suffered a real set back. Our hostel owner took one look at my camera bag, and suggested I leave it at home. I was shattered. Sure, I have heard stories of mugging and theft in Rio – it’s the Barcelona of South America, after all – but the part of me that likes risk-aversion immediately kicked in and I was camera-less. For nine days in Rio, I only took the camera out twice – once to Sugar Loaf and once to Corcovado. And it should be mentioned that on the bus home from Corcovado, we were told of a couple mugged just 2 days ago in broad daylight, in Lapa. Lapa, where we were staying. Needless to say, when we hoped off the bus after sunset, we sprinted from the stop to our hostel to protect my precious cargo. But more on my camera and safety concerns on my Words post – this post is meant to be all about the 2 days of featured photography from Rio de Janeiro.

And it should be noted, Rio de Janeiro really is gorgeous. Colourful, warm, lively and full of genuinely lovely people. As long as you don’t get mugged!


Filed Under → Travel
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