A Travellerspoint blog

Oruro Carnival

sunny 17 °C
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Bolivian transport seems to turn into chaos around carnival time. After arriving in the border town of Villazon, it was impossible to get on to the train as planned, so we had to settle for a bone shaker bus ride. Andrew is thinking of studying the average life expectancy of Bolivian bus passengers compared to Bolivians who use other forms of transport! Part of the problem appears to be that the driver fails to slow down at appropriate times, choosing instead to us the horn as a break. During our trip (we sat on the middle back seats of the bus - with families at our feet in the aisle) we witnessed a collapsed bridge, so the bus had to drive down a banking and through the river. This was done with a bus load of passengers - including us. We also saw a bus that was hanging precariously on to the road, half tipped over. The passengers managed to hoist it back on to the road with ropes. We later heard, that because buses fill up so quickly, and because it is often their only means of transport available, that aisle tickets are sold (for the same price as seats) and when these are all gone, Bolivians have been known to travel in the luggage hold!! We finally arrived in Oruro at midnight, and felt truly baptised into the world of Bolivian buses.

We loved throwing water bombs and spraying foam at unsuspecting kids in Oruro, for 3 days. This is not illegal, infact it is actively encouraged during carnival! Lisa even went to spray a child, but (out of character) upon realising it was crying, turned away. However, the mother insisted that the child was sprayed - so she obliged. It was more fun having water fights with the children because the adults took it too seriously. We met "competetive dad" with whom we had a full on water fight. Later, a friend who we were with, Neil, was unharmed, minding his own business, when "competitive dad" ambushed him with the rest of his family!

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Neil comes off worse

When Lisa wasn't making children cry, we sat in the seats and watched the colourful procession go by. On the Saturday, the Diablada ceremony took place. This pays tribute to the patroness of miners and Pachamama (earth mother). The Diablada was originally performed by the indigenous miners, but now a number of guilds take part in the procession, from all over Bolivia. This festival is known for it's imaginative costumes, and we certainly saw some sights. Not least, the drunken band players, who stagger on through the procession, playing out of tune. This happens as early as eleven in the morning.

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Carnival takes it's toll!

Less fun was the hotel that we stayed in, although we couldn't complain - we only paid $50 each, for the 3 nights of carnival. Lisa said she was going to have t-shirts made up "we survived Hotel America", Neil said "if Carlsberg made hotels...."

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Fancy a shower?

Posted by bruntonal 06:34 Archived in Bolivia Tagged events Comments (0)

Mendoza

sunny 27 °C
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Firstly, a tip for any would be travellers who wish to go to Mendoza...don't pitch up at 8pm on a Saturday night, in high season, expecting to have your pick of hostels. We felt like Mary & Joseph (minus the donkey and imminent arrival), as we knocked on their doors and was told "there's no room at the inn" or "completo". One man even asked us our country of origin before he told us proudly that he was full for the forseeable future. We thought this suspicious until he very kindly gave us a map of other hostels in the area (complete with telephone numbers) and told us to be careful walking around the streets with our backpacks. Lisab phoning around a few hostels (using her finest Spanglish) did the trick and we stumbled upon our hostel at 10pm.

We only had a short stay in Mendoza. In our opinion (probably tainted by the hostel palava), Mendoza centre isn't all that, but the surrounding vineyards certainly are. We were going to be lazy (so unlike the Bruntons) and take an organised wine tour, but it had to be booked a day in advance. We ended up getting on a bus, and the driver gave us a flyer for a bike hire shop (we think it was his mates); he then dropped us off outside, and we were greeted by "Mr Hugo" the bike man (a very colourful character). Although wanting a tandem, Mrs B was denied for fear (on Mr B's part) that he would have to do all the peddling. We were given a map of vineyards, and they identified 2 bodegas that were family run and worth a visit - with the added bonus of them being only 5km and 7km away from the bike shop, on flat terrain!

Lisa b was admittedly tiddly after the first stop. We got to sample 5 wines at Familia Di Tommaso (generous tastings of 3 reds, one white and a desert wine). It would have been rude not to have the glass of white with our salad for lunch, and it would have been even ruder not to have the desert wine, with pudding (a sweet picada - a plate full of chocolate, nuts, raisins and the most gorgeous bon bons we have ever tried!)

A further 2kms to the next bodega (although Andrew says Lisa drove 2.5kms due to all her swaying into the middle of the road) and our chance to taste the fine wines of Carinae bodega. This is run by a French man, who apparently was an electrical engineer who knew nothing about wine until he bought this vineyard in Argentina. We had missed the main tour of the previous vineyard due to being a bit tardy on arrival, however, a very informative guide showed us around Carinae and explained things we didn't previously know - such as the vines are only watered once a week in summer, with the ingenious irrigation system, set up to capture melting snow from the nearby mountains. In years of drought, they claim to produce the best wine, because they can control the water fed to the vineyard. Also, due to the torrential hail storms that can destroy a whole year's harvest, the Government (at the time of such storms) spray silver into the clouds to disperse or diminish the problem. This process was initiated by the large, rich wineries, but even the small, family owned bodegas have to pay towards this, whether they can afford to or not.

After a further 3 tastings of wine and with 2 bottles tucked safely on the back of our bikes, we managed to cycle back without a hitch and deliver the bikes back safely to Mr Hugo. Although we weren't bothered about being drunk in charge of the bikes, we didn't want to be drunk in charge of the camera, hence no photo's, sorry!

Posted by bruntonal 09:50 Archived in Argentina Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Travel stories


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Part of the fun of travelling is meeting people; from locals to fellow travellers, who share their travel stories and offer advice. We certainly hope not to repeat the accidental detour that three American students (whom we met recently) made on their way to Chile....One of them was given the task of finding cheap flights over the internet. She snapped up an incredible deal and booked them all on a flight to Santiago. It wasn't until they had just taken off that they started to become suspicious. Surely a flight from Miami to Chile should take longer than the 2 hours the pilot had just announced? They asked the flight attendant where they were heading and he replied "Santiago....Dominican Republic"!!! and subsequently forfeited their bar bill for the inflight entertainment they had provided him with. This detour resulted in them having to take a return flight to Miami, and then pay a hefty sum for a last minute flight to their wanted destination of Santiago, Chile. As they said they'd "read up on Chile, and didn't know anything about Dominican Republic, so what was the point of staying?!" Surely, this could happen to any student of any nationality and in no way reflects a connection between the larger American population and George W Bush remaining in power.

Posted by bruntonal 09:32 Archived in Chile Tagged educational Comments (1)

Pucon - The Chilean Lake District

The Bruntons turn into extreme sports enthusiasts

sunny 28 °C
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Following on from the momentum of completing the "W" we decided to trek up the active volcano "Villarrica" near Pucon. This involved arriving at the tour office at 4am! to receive our kit which included ice pick, crampons and a hard helmet to walk up the snow covered volcano. It took aproximately 4 hours of steady pace to reach the top. There was no lava visible, but we did get to see the huge crater emitting a continuous sulphur gas. The video also shows the vents which surround the crater and emit small pockets of the gas.

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Trekking up in the morning sun

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We made it

We were lucky to spend an hour at the top. Sometimes on a windy day the noxious fumes make it impossible to hang around longer than a few minutes. The best bit of the day then arrived - getting to slide down the volcano on our bottoms - down the carved out chutes, using the icepicks to (try to) control our speed. This made the walk up even more worthwhile! We were enjoying ourselves too much to bother getting the camera out, so unfortunately, no shots were taken of us sliding down.

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The view at the bottom, after the morning's trek

We really liked Pucon, there are loads of activites to keep you entertained, and when the weather is so fabulous, lots of cafe bars to sit at, watching the volcano smoking away.

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The view of Villarrica from Pucon centre

The next day, we relaxed with a walk in the Huerquehue National Park to see the monkey puzzle trees.

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After a taste of danger, we chose to book to go white water rafting. We tried to book on the cowardly grade 3 course, but the tour operator basically told us it was for families, and since we had no six year kid in tow, we would have to opt for the grade 4. We were so glad that we did; neither of us had rafted before (Andyb won't cycle for fear of injuries) and we surprised ourselves at how much we enjoyed the thrill of crashing into the rocks and the waves. We even got to experience a "grade 4 and a half" rapid (though it could have been the guide bigging it up). It has all been captured on DVD, which can be seen on a t.v. near you soon! Andrew has now turned into an adrenaline junky, and has been toying with the idea of base jumping.

Posted by bruntonal 07:45 Archived in Chile Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Torres del Paine

Trekking the "W" circuit

semi-overcast 20 °C
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We spent 6 days, 5 nights trekking the "W" circuit in Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. Lisab was allocated the job of "catering manager" and following advice from the people at Erratic Rock Hostel in Natales (free talk every day aprox 3pm - very good for inexperienced trekkers) decided to ration the food into daily portions. Poor Andyb's face literally sunk as he was told "no" the lunch packs were neither (a) just for him or (b) a joke. Andyb oversaw proceedings as "project manager" (this role mainly involved carrying a heavier backpack).

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Catering Manager guarding the food (on her backside as usual)

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Who's eaten my porridge? (Andrew always managed to lift the pan just high enough, out of Lisa's reach, to ensure he got his fairer share of the breakfast ration).

The weather is notorious for providing 4 seasons IN A DAY, but during our time in the park we experienced a mainly dry (if very windy) climate. We chose to spend an extra day trekking to see the southern icefield. Unfortunately, a sign told us that the passage was closed due to a landslide and being sensible, conformist types, we proceeded no further. Later we discovered that the signs were left over from winter and to "ignore" them. Overall however, the park is well organised, with clear paths and good camping facilities.

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Although we only got to see the tip of the southern icefield, our extra day's hike awarded us great views of Glacier Grey.

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Close up of the glacier.

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View from Valle Frances

On the last day we awoke early to climb the mountain to see the famous towers (this is becoming something of a habit). Due to a flurry of snow, we only got to view an outline of the towers, though we were still close enough to witness the imposing nature of these great lumps of granite. It was also a very pretty sight to see the freshly fallen snow on the surrounding trees and lower mountains.

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The 3 towers

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At the end of the trek, some people who we'd met were checking each others' backpacks for weight. Even the guanaco laughed at Lisab's light pack. She insists this was due to her expert provision rationing, that ensured no food was left after 6 days - severely lightening her load (and nothing to do with her husband being used as a pack horse).

Following this few days hard slog we rewarded ourselves with a relaxing cruise (read bog standard ferry) through the Chilean fjords from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt on the Navimag. We may have seen lots of wildlife were it not for the continuous rain that prevented us from staying out on deck for more than 3 minutes at a time. One highlight of the trip was getting off the ship at Puerto Eden, a tiny fishing village which houses only aproximately 200 people. It was also a good way to unwind after carrying our house and all supplies on our backs for the best part of a week.

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Puerto Eden

Posted by bruntonal 06:55 Archived in Chile Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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