In every way, 2011 was an amazing year. Jamie Talbot and I travelled the world, visited 15 countries, and met countless inspiring people. We spent time with our families and friends in Australia and England, and made new friends everywhere else. Eight months on the road was revitalising yet tiring, but we’ll never forget the opportunity we had to take the such a huge chunk of time off work, pack up our lives and travel, free of worry, debt and responsibility. The trip brought us even closer together, too – so we got married at the end of it! And now, we start 2012 with a new home in San Francisco – overjoyed at what 2011 brought us and excited to see what’s ahead in 2012. Here are my favourite memories from the year on the road.
We’re almost finished in South America, for this trip anyway. We’ve had a chilled 9 days in Brazil, an exciting and fast visit in Chile and Easter Island, four days in Bolivia to recover and almost 3 weeks in Peru. We haven’t even scratched the surface of the continent but all has been excellent.
I haven’t done much writing in the past few weeks, so I though I would make up for it now. Right now I’m on a bus driving from Arequipa to Nazca. It’s not the typical 12 hour drive though – we’re in fully reclining leather chairs, with on-board entertainment, power sockets and Wi-Fi. Oh, and lunch is included. Sounds pretty luxurious, doesn’t it? Although it’s not as comfortable as a king size pillow top bed, or a cushioned sun bed with swimming pool and cocktails, it’s pretty darn good. And it’s giving me a day to catch up on photos and updates from the trip so far. So, let’s recap!
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – Nine days, most of that spent eating delicious red meat, drinking caiprihianas, and avoiding muggings. We saw all the main spots, met great people, had lots of fun, but we didn’t get to see much of the city. We also missed out on the rest of Brazil, so we’ll just have to go back sometime. Maybe with a better understanding of Portuguese, and in 2014 for the world cup!
Santiago – The city was gorgeous, the people warm, the food delicious. I’m not usually a fan of soups but I now love cazuelas. I’m not usually a fan of sweet drinks but the terramoto’s have got my vote. And we were told hot dogs were the ‘national dish’ – it may not be an official statement, but they are inexpensive, everywhere and truly delicious.
Easter Island – One place that I can be almost certain I will never see again. That feels like a very sad thing to say, but most people will never get to see it even once. It was a breathtaking island, in the middle of nowhere, with fresh air, beautiful landscapes, tasty food and warm people. It’s not easy to get to, but so so worth it.
La Paz – I’m sure I’ve said it already, but La Paz will take your breath away. We stayed very still here for 3 days, to avoid altitude sickness. But with excellent japanese food, blue skies, a comfy bed and a few diamox to keep the altitude sickness at bay, we were content to chill out after action packed Chile. Unfortunately we missed all Bolivia has to offer, so we will be back to visit the salt flats, death road and the Witches Markets.
Puno, Lake Titicaca, Cusco and Arequipa – All excellent, with the perfect weather while we were there. Cool nights, warm days and blue skies – bliss! The food has been excellent, the sights amazing, the people lovely. I should have learned Spanish, though – it would have been helpful! Will definitely return to Peru, to see some more of these cities and the north, as well.
Machu Picchu – Wow, wow, wow. We did a one day Inca Trail, from 104km, about an hours train ride from Ollantaytambo. It was tough but amazing, with such stunning views the whole way. And that was before we even reached the Sun Gate! We did it in perfect timing, as well – hiking from 8am, we reached the Sungate a little after lunch, when all the 4 day hikers had already cleared out and Machu Picchu looked empty (at least from a far). Although I know what to expect from it now (pure awesomeness) I’d potentially return, maybe next time with a helicopter!
In Peru, we’ve spent most of our time under the care and guidance of Adios Adventure Travels – http://www.adiosadventuretravel.com/. They picked us up from Copacabana and took us over the border into Peru, and from there we’ve been expertly guided from Puno, through Cusco, Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, Arequipa and Colca Canyon, and now Nazca and Lima. After reading about them on a forum, where we had been researching the pros/cons of using Gap or Intrepid, we saw a few excellent reviews of Adios, a local company. And I hope to now add to those reviews – they have been simply stunning. Adios is owned and run by Vidal, based in Cusco. We met Vidal on day 3 and he is lovely, a gentleman, and an absolute star. He is not only well known in Cusco, he is loved by all, and we can see why. And it was such a pleasant surprise to meet the owner, which I am sure would never, ever happen with a bigger, international group. Jacquie, his trusty side kick based in the US, was a godsend. She arranged everything for us, from pick up to drop off, on the dates we chose, the times we chose, all to our specifications. And they were cheaper and 100% more flexible that some of the big names. Take that, industry! And imagine our surprise when we discovered that we were travelling on our own, with no big-group-hassles, and that our accommodation was absolutely luxury. Wow wow wow. I would recommend them 200%, and absolutely, definitely travel with them again. Outstanding!
Enough gushing from me though – we’ve got just another 3 days in Peru to enjoy before the final country on the trip – USA! And just to make sure I’m well rested after all the fun in Peru, we’ve got some comfort lined up… a cushioned sun bed with swimming pool and cocktails for five days! Heya Miami!
– Cheers, Em
From the few photos I had seen of Valparaiso, I knew it was colourful. But it was brighter and more colourful than I could have imagined. I don’t know if the government endorses the graffiti, or maybe they’ve just given up, but it is plentiful – every corner, post, building, house and staircase seems to have been painted in the brightest paints you could find. The result is a rainbow city, difficult to navigate with its hills and winding streets. But just take one of the many funiculars up one of this hills and you can see the entire city below, and hopefully work out which direction you’re headed!
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.
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!
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
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!