Brazil

July 12th, 2000


I think that I’ve started a love affair !

I didn’t mean to, I wasn’t even supposed to be there – Maybe it’s fate ?

She is beautiful and sensual, she is wild and exciting, she is dark and mysterious…..

She is Brazil !

Once upon a time, many months ago, when I was planning a vague route around South America I hadn’t even considered Brazil. Reading the Dangers and Annoyances section of any of the guide books is enough to put the bravest person off.

But things change… On the Navimag boat in southern Chile I met a great Brazilian couple, Greta and Aldo, that own a hotel in the quiet town of Paraty which is on the coast between Sao Paulo and Rio. They didn’t try to mug me, rip me off, threaten violence or any of the other things that the guidebooks suggest as being so Brazilian. Instead they invited my to visit them !
That, and the fact that I’d always dreamed of going to Rio, made me think: “What the hell, it’s only 2000km away, practically on the doorstep !!”

So in mid-July I left Montevideo to head north towards São Paulo via Florianópolis.

Florianópolis
The first thing you notice about Brazil is the fact that they don’t speak spanish, it’s close but not quite close enough. I decided that learning Portuguese would probably make me forget the spanish that I’d already learnt and so decided on a compromise….spanish sentences but with “obrigado” at the end instead of “gracias”. It worked surprisingly pretty well.

After an 18hr bus ride I eventually pulled into the bus station of Florianópolis, the state capital of Santa Catarine. I emerged in fear and trepidation, not knowing what to expect and cautious of everyone. Hardly the confidence expected of someone who has spent the last 15 months travelling around the world ! It didn’t take too long for me to relax though and to start enjoying the place.
Florianópolis is a nice, relaxed city that forms a bridge between the mainland and the island of Santa Catarina. I found the people to be extremely friendly, helpful and patient – especially with my spanish.
Whilst there I visited Barra da Lagoa, on the Atlantic side of Ilha de Santa Catarina, a beautiful and relaxing place with nice sandy beaches and good waves, and saw something quite unexpected. I’d travelled to the very end of the earth, as far south as any normal tourist could go, and had missed them and suddenly here they were playing in the surf, 4000km away from home….penguins ! I knew that they migrated north for the winter but I never expected to find them this far north. Isn’t nature remarkable ?

I was only in Florianópolis a couple of days before continuing my journey north.

São Paulo
São Paulo is South Americas biggest city with over 19 million inhabitants and my first taste of big town Brazil. It was in at the deep end, my bus arrived at five in the morning and it was straight on to the metro system and to the red light district where most of the cheap hotels are situated.
I was in São Paulo for 5 days in the end and really enjoyed it. Yes, you have to be careful but not paranoid. I love walking around cities and exploring and a couple of times found myself in areas in which I really shouldn’t have been. My way of dealing with it is simply to look like I know where I’m going, smile and say “hello” to everyone and get the hell out. It’s never failed yet.
There’s a lot going on in São Paulo. It’s not so much a city for tourists but more a city for locals with lots of music, art and entertainment. It also has some great architecture and even in the cities heart you can find narrow streets of cottages.
For me the highlight was a huge exhibition in the Parque do Ibirapuera celebrating 500 years of Brazil. There were several huge exhibition halls showing exhibits of Brazilian art and culture from the European, African and indigenous Indian influences. It was fascinating and gave a real insight to Brazil. The organisers said that the only way that Brazil could move into the next 500 years was to understand and feel comfortable with the last 500. How true that is.
I met some great locals in São Paulo and like so many places it’s not necessarily the place that matters but who you’re with.

Paraty
Paraty is a town with a history and is, in fact, a National and World Historical Monument. It was founded in 1667 and was linked with the mines in Minas Gerais by the Camino D’Oro (Street of Gold). The Portuguese would sail their caravelas to Brazil loaded with large stones for ballast and would then exchange them in Paraty for gold and jewels. The cobbled streets and houses of Paraty are made from the stones that they left behind.
Paraty’s setting is beautiful, on the shore of a blue ocean bay and surrounded by hills of tropical forest. The town was constructed to flood twice a day with the tides, thus ridding the streets of effluence and rubbish. Today this cleansing is less frequent but does still occur with high tides.

Paraty was a great place to relax and to catch up with Aldo and Greta at their nice Refúgio. Also staying there were an English/American couple: Thomas and Tamara, and we did several things together including going out on a large sailboat, going horse riding, and trying out the local Pinga: a high proof, sugarcane alcohol in a variety of flavours ! One time the three of us were stopped by the local police as we drove out of Paraty and were expected to pay a bribe. We pointed out that we were Aldo’s friends and immediately his face changed. He handed back our documentation and told us to be on our way. We found out from Aldo later that this particular policeman had messed with one of Aldo’s more influential friends before and had been posted to the back of beyond for a year !! We shouldn’t have been surprised, Aldo’s family are originally Italian !

Rio De Janiero


Her name was Lola, she was a showgirl
With yellow feathers in her hair and a dress cut down to there

Ok, hands up who knows the rest of the words ? It normally degenerates to: Do do do do da, do do do do da etc until complete strangers join in with…


At the Copa, Copacabana
The hottest spot north of Havana,
At the Copa, Copaca-ban-a
Music and passion were always the fashion
At the Copa….they fell in love

If I had a pound for every time I found myself singing that tune whilst in Rio I’d be a rich man. I just could not get it out of my head !!

Rio de Janiero ! The place synonymous with Sugar Loaf Mountain, the statue of Christ the Redeemer, Carnival, beaches, beautiful woman, Copacabana beach and Barry Manilow (?) is something special. It isn’t actually a river at all but a large bay, falsely named by the Portuguese navigator Gasper de Lemos in 1502. The French, the first settlers in 1555, didn’t do much better by calling it Antarctic France. It’s surprising either of them got there in the first place !

I arrived late on a Sunday night and got a local bus to Copa, Copacabana where my hostel was located. I was a little apprehensive, Rio’s darker reputation goes before it, and the zip on my day pack chose that moment to break – good timing ! I got there safely though
I have to admit that I loved Rio. It must have one of the most beautiful natural settings of any city in the world. The view from the top of Corcovado (Christ the Redeemer) has to be seen to be believed and to see the sunset and city lights from Sugar Loaf is also something special.
It’s hard to describe what makes Brazil and, in particular, Rio special. It just has a life, a passion, an energy that I have never felt before. It’s hard to explain exactly what it is but it can’t be denied. It’s the only place I’ve been to where a single beach vendor will offer chewing gum and g-strings !

I was lucky to share a dorm and, more widely, a hostel with some great people. We had a great time going to clubs, to the beach, to bars (chewing Guaraná nuts), to fruit juice stands (the juices are simply the best, anywhere), to a beach concert of Gilberto Gil (a famous Latin American musician), as well as going to all the tourist places. Thanks everyone, it was great !

It was sad to leave in the end but everyone was moving on and the time was right.

Curitiba
Curitiba was simply a days stopover on the way from Rio to Foz. It’s a pleasant enough place, was good for shopping, has a trendy bus system but not much else. It was a 10 hr bus ride to me final stop in Brazil, Foz Do Iguaçu.

Snap Happy Again
Some of you will remember that my camera broke down in Ushuaia, in southern Argentina. I spent a lot of time looking for a replacement and even had an abortive attempt to get one through the internet (It’s a long story and it’s taken me 3 months to get my money back). Foz’s location enabled me to finally find a replacement.
Foz Do Iguaçu is located on the tri-border of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina and just over the border, in Paraguay, lies the extremely dodgy, contraband city of Ciudad del Este. It’s not a place that you want to hang out too long but it’s great for buying low price electrical goods and I was able to buy the camera that I was looking for, for the same price as in the states – bargain ! So finally I’m snap happy again. I hope that you like the results.

Foz Do Iguaçu
Ever seen the film “The Mission” with Jeremy Irons and Robert de Niro ? It’s about the Jesuit Missions here in south America (I’ll talk more about them in the next update) and during the film you often see the back drop of some beautiful waterfalls.
I remember seeing that film at college, being touched by their beauty and thinking that one day I’d love to see them. Well, the time had come. Those falls are the Iguaçu Falls.

The Iguaçu Falls are basically a long canyon over one side and one end of which flow the falls. At one end you find the semicircular Garganta del Diablo (The Devils Throat) over which 5000 cubic metres of water flows per second and drops, with a tremendous roar, 70m to it’s base !! It is a truly awesome sight, and sound !
There are two sides to the Falls: The Brazilian and the Argentinean sides both of which are reasonably devoid of development. They really help you to appreciate the falls in their natural surroundings. The Brazilian side gives you an overview of the falls as you see them from a distance. It helps you to appreciate just how huge they are. From the Argentinean side you’re “up close and personal” and generally wet !!
My command of the English language fails me to describe the falls accurately and to relay the noise, their power, their energy and their sheer beauty. From the top you feel that you could fall off of the end of the world. Look at the photos that accompany this update to get an idea about the falls but bear in mind that they don’t begin to do them justice.

Summary
It’s a funny old life isn’t it ? How often is it that the unplanned and unexpected times often give the most pleasure ? So it was with Brazil. I was only able to see a glimpse of it in the time that I had but I know that it’s changed me and has had a effect on me deeper than most other countries that I’ve visited.

Do you know what the Portuguese word is for a hummingbird ? It’s Beija Flor or Flower Kisser. That’s Brazil !

`til next time,

Iain


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Uruguay

June 30th, 2000

The Republica Oriental del Uruguay (basically, the Republic to the east of the River Uruguay) is one of the smallest countries in South America and, apart from the towns of Montevideo or Colonia, is often overlooked by travellers. As I had enough time I thought that I would do a small tour of Uruguay to see what there was off of the beaten track.

Uruguay declared independence from Spain in 1828 with the help of the 33 Orientals (‘Oriental’ as in ‘from the east of the Rio Uruguay’ as opposed to ‘Chinese’) and with the encouragement of their national hero Jose Artigas who was exiled to Paraguay.
Nearly all South American countries have a Liberator who they venerate for liberating their country from the spanish: Argentina has San Martin, Chile has Bernard O’Higgins (I kid you not), Bolivia has Simon Bolivar and for Uruguay it’s Jose Artigas. The fact that he was in exile when independence was achieved and was never allowed to return to Uruguay, doesn’t seem to dampen their pride in him. His ashes are under constant guard under the Plaza Independéncia.

Since independence, Uruguay has gone through several democratic governments and dictatorships, the last of which ended in 1984 when public support for the Military all but disappeared and democracy returned. It ranks as one of south America’s most educated and stable countries.

On the last day of June I caught the 2hr ferry from Buenos Aires, across the Rio de la Plata, to Colonia in Uruguay.

Colonia
Nova Colonia do Sacramento was founded in 1680 by the Portuguese who used it to undercut the trade of the spanish city of Buenos Aires and it was eventually captured by the spanish in 1762.
Colonia is a very pleasant town of only 20,000 people built on a headland, and consists of many pretty, winding, cobbled streets and artisan shops. It stays in my memory as one of the few places I’ve been to where a half litre of wine in a restaurant is cheaper than a coffee !

Whilst in Colonia I decided to send a package of odds and ends back to the UK. It’s interesting to see how basic services work (or don’t work) in different countries: A plus for the Uruguayan postal service was that the stamps are like stickers and so don’t need to be licked. A negative is that they are huge and you need lots of them. You could hardly see the address on my package for stamps – there must have been about 25 of them !! I asked jokingly what happens if you want to send a postcard – the woman behind the counter showed a distinct sense of humour failure.

My next stop was a “Must See” for any self respecting Brit…

Meat Pie Anyone ?
In 1864 the Liebig Meat Extraction Company of London started operations in a small town 100km north of Colonia. That town was Fray Bentos !
All is now quiet in the pretty little town that provided the name that is synominous in the UK with tinned meat pies. The huge frigorifico plant is now still and the buildings deserted shells.
Beyond the deserted factories is a really nice parkland which is great for an afternoon stroll along the Rio Uruguay but in the town itself there is little else to occupy you.

If you like old cars then Uruguay is the place for you. I have never seen so many old cars on the streets. By ‘old’ I mean 30 to 40 years, if not older. In Fray Bentos there is even a Ford showroom which, honest to god, has two immaculate Model T´s for sale with spoked wheels, the lot. Uruguay seems to be in a time warp with respect to cars, quite unreal.

Salto
My next stop on this whistle wind tour was the town of Salto, a veritable throbbing metropolis in comparison to anything so far. It is in the citrus fruit growing region of Uruguay and has thermal springs and a nice climate.
Again, there isn’t much there for the tourist but it’s nice place and the people are very friendly. It’s tourist highlight is a large Hydroelectric project but I appeared to be the only tourist in Salto at the time and they needed a minimum number to do the tour and so I didn’t get to see it. There are several good museums in Salto and a sad looking zoo and most importantly, ATM’s. In general admission to museums in Uruguay is free. This is a real bonus for a backpacker and a good reflection of how they view education in Uruguay.

Tacuarembo
From Salto I moved on to the pleasant town of Tacuarembo, situated in the green rolling hills in the north of Uruguay. Again it’s a nice enough place but there’s not too much there.
Amusement Arcades in Uruguay, and South America generally, are great because they have all the old games that you can no longer find in Europe and they’re all dirt cheap to play. In Tacuarembo I found an arcade with the old car racing game of ‘Out Run’ which I used to love playing when I was at college. It’s the one with the guy and his girlfriend driving around in a Ferrari. It’s great fun and it was noticeable that, even after such a long time of not playing, my skill level hadn’t changed – I was still crap !! Oh well !
Half an hours bus ride outside of Tacuarembo is a place called Valle Eden, where there are some pleasant walks and waterfalls and a museum to a certain: Carlos Gardel. In my Argentina update I wrote about the Tango and how it encapsulates a whole style of song and music as well as of dance. For those of you who
haven’t heard the name, Carlos Gardel was probably the most famous and successful Tango singer that ever lived, before his life was cut short in a plane crash in Columbia. Over the years there have been many disputes and speculations concerning the nationality of Gardel, some say that he was French, others
Argentinean (He is buried in Buenos Aires). Well, this museum was dedicated to proving, once and for all, that Carlos Gardel was in fact Uruguayan and was born in Tacuarembo. It was amazing the lengths that they had gone to prove this. What was, in my opinion, more suspect than his nationality was that his father had managed to marry 3 sisters, one after the other. There has to be a tale of passion and intrigue there.

San Gregorio de Polanco
Next stop was the small town of San Gregorio de Polanco. It doesn’t appear in any of the main tourist books and is therefore quite unspoilt. I’d found out about it in Salto. I was heading towards an art museum, got lost and ended up in a modern art class for middle aged women. We got chatting and they said that if I liked art then I should go to San Gregorio de Polanco. So there I went.
So what does a small isolated town in the middle of Uruguay offer the art world ? Basically, different artists have descended on San Gregorio at different times to paint murals. As you walk around this small town practically every available wall and building has been painted with murals of exceptional quality and with styles ranging from cartoons to classic, modern to religious etc. It is a lovely, relaxed place on the shores of Lake Rincon del Boneté and a good place to relax for a few days.

All too soon, though, it was time to move on to my last stop in Uruguay – the capital, Montevideo.

Montevideo
Montevideo was built by the spanish in 1726 as a response to the Portuguese port of Colonia and became the capital with Uruguay’s independence from Spain.
I arrived on a Saturday evening in the middle of a thunderstorm. It was windy, cold and very wet and remained so until I left the following Wednesday !! The bad weather is probably the reason that Montevideo
didn’t endear itself to me as much as to other travelers that I’ve met.
I stayed at the YHA near the centre of town and met the first tourists that I’d seen in Uruguay. I was beginning to wonder if there was some rule whereby a new tourist could only enter the country when another left !!
Montevideo is a nice enough place with an old town and lots of museums, again, most of which are free. As an example, I visited the Gobierno (Parliament) while I was there, was the only tourist in the place and so I got my very own guided tour. Feeling like one of the tourist number doesn’t seem to be a problem in Uruguay !!

Maté
Uruguay isn’t a place for the best this, the worst that – it’s very middle of the road in most things, but there is one area in which Uruguay leads the world – Yerba Mate consumption, Uruguayans drink more Mate per capita than any other country !
Yerba Mate is a drink made from a tea like plant that grows in South America. It apparently has many medicinal properties and it drunk traditionally from a gourd with a metal ‘bombilla’ or straw which has a filter on one end. It’s a little like drinking leaf tea direct from the pot, except you literally fill the gourd with mate powder and keep adding water until you’ve finished. It is an important part of everyday life and you will often see the locals sitting in any available spot with their mate gourd primed, their bombilla at the ready and with a flask of hot water under their arm for refills.

Summary
So all in all I was really glad that I did a mini tour of Uruguay instead of just visiting the usual Montevideo or Colonia. It is a beautiful and extremely pleasant place and I found the people to be extremely friendly and hospitable.
I’m not sure that I’d say that Uruguay is a “Must See” but if you’re in the area and have some spare time then you could do a lot worse than to spend some time there.

Talk to you soon,

Iain


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Argentina

June 4th, 2000

Did you know that Argentina is 1 hour ahead of Chile ?

Nights of the “Pool Table”
I was on a bus from Punto Arenas to Ushuaia with a british couple, Mark and Kay, whom I’d originally met on the boat from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales and who I had subsequently bumped into in the oddest places. The last of which had been an extremely obscure guesthouse in Punta Arenas.
We entered Argentina and finally arrived at the delightful town of Rio Grande, which the Lonely Planet describes as: “making a genuine effort to beautify and improve itself, but still has a long way to go.” It wasn’t actually that bad. We got there at 4pm and were told that our connecting bus to Ushuaia was at 6pm. So Mark and I decided to use the time to go for a wander, find a bank and to get some snacks for the impending 3 hour trip to Ushuaia. We got back at 5:15, in plenty of time for the bus and…….nothing, everyone had gone, including Kay and all of our luggage. The office was locked up and in darkness. We stood and looked at each other wondering what was going on. It’s amazing what scenarios you can come up with in such a situation: Was there a free tour of Rio Grande ? Was dinner included ? Aliens from another planet ? You name it, we thought of it !! But there was one thing that Mark was definitely sure of…Kay wouldn’t have left without us !! Mark, Kay – never apply to appear on Mrs and Mrs !! We waited for over an hour before the penny finally dropped….there’s a 1 hour time difference !! Oops !!

So began 10 days of excessive alcohol consumption, sleep deprivation and more pool than you could shake a stick at.

The next bus to Ushuaia left at 7 o’clock the next morning ! What to do ? Find a hotel or……..Basically we decided to make a night of it and went to a bar, a restaurant, bar, the 1am showing of “The Gladiator” (Films are great here as they are in the original version with Spanish subtitles) and then ended up back in the bar drinking and playing pool until they eventually threw us out at 6 in the morning !! An hour later we were on the bus heading towards Ushuaia, via the land of nod !

Ushuaia
At 54º South Ushuaia is the most southerly city in the world. It lies on the Isla Grande del Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire), so called because the indiginous peoples wore little or no clothing and used constant fires to keep themselves warm. It’s setting is beautiful, absolutely stunning. It lies on the north side of the Beagle Channel with an vast array of snowcapped mountains behind it rising from sea-level to heights if over 1500m. The town itself has a real ‘frontier’ feel about it: Many of the streets are unpaved and much of the sprawling housing looks ready to sprawl itself a little closer to the ground. In the summer it’s quite a tourist place with cruise boats to the Antarctic etc but in winter (ie. now) it’s all but devoid of tourists. Something else about ‘El Fin del Mundo’ (The End if the world) – It’s bloody cold !! Gloves, hat, scarf etc definitely required. Thank god I’ve got long hair !

Some Background
The Tierra del Fuego was originally inhabited by the Ona, Haush, Alacalufes and Yahgan indians. Some of the latter of which were taken to London by the first vogage in the area, of the british ship “The Beagle” in 1830. Jimmy Button, as he was called, the only survivor of the ordeal, returned with the Beagle in 1834 along with a certain Charles Darwin. Darwin said of the indians:


“They are abject and miserable creatures…that scarcely deserve to be called articulate fellow creatures.”

Which suggests that however much he understood the world around him when it came to his own species he was as blind and bigotted as the next man. Interestingly though, he also said:


“…their difference with europeans is greater than that between wild and domestic animals.”

Was this what triggered his idea of evolution ?

In the late 1800´s a british missionary, Thomas Bridges, came from the Falkland Islands and set up a mission in Ushuaia for the Indians who were coming under immense pressure for land and food by the estancias (farms) that were appearing. Although his intentions were no doubt good, the Indians became exposed to diseases against which they had no resistance and a lifestyle to which they were not accustomed. They were completely decimated. One of the only things that remains of the Indians now, strangly, is their language. Thomas Bridges learnt the language of the Yahgan’s and wrote a incomplete dictionary of their language which has over 32,000 entries. So much for Darwins “inarticulate fellow creatures”.
After this time Ushuaia was the site of a penal colony, mainly for political prisoners, before becoming the more tourist dependent city that it is today. So there you go, everything you ever wanted to know about Ushuaia but were too afraid to ask !

In Ushuaia
A very sleepy Mark and I were greeted at the bus stop in Ushuaia by a vision ! Does anyone remember Fagin, the vagabond of Dickens’ ‘Oliver Twist’, or better still Ben Gunn the castaway in ‘Treasure Island’ ? You know, long hair, longer beard and a mad glint in the eye ? Well, add a quilted jacket and you have a Señor Pedro Sanchez who, along with his wife Hilda, are two of the craziest people that I’ve ever met. (“Would you happen to have a piece of cheese about your person ?”). If you want a good example of what 27 years of living in the middle of nowhere does for you, then look no further ! That said, they were also two of the friendliest and kindest people that you could hope to meet.
We spent 4 days in Ushuaia and had a ball. Walking, sitting in cafés, visiting museums and getting drunk with Pedro and Francesco, an italian guy who never seemed to be able to get out of bed early enough to catch his bus out of town. Hilda even prayed for Mark and Kay during breakfast so that they could learn spanish easier ! We had an absolutely fantastic time .
Our next stop was Trelew, 1000 km to the north. It was actually cheaper, faster, and a lot less hassle to fly than to take the bus and so on a beautiful Wednesay afternoon we left took off from the “Argentine Malvinas International Airport”.

The Falklands / Las Malvinas

As an aside. It was interesting to note that on all maps in Argentina, even official ones, the Falklands (Malvinas), South Georgia etc are all stated as being Argentinian. I understand the Argentinian claim to the islands but the facts are, rightly or wrongly, different. The maps, which in my opinion should be factual like an encylopaedia, seem to have crossed the line between “a national desire” and “blatant propoganda”. I found this surprising in a country as advanced as Argentina.

Que tal, Boyo ?
In 1865, the ship “Mimosa” carrying a group of 153 welsh people landed in Patagonia.


“Their leaders had combed the earth for a stretch of open country uncontaminated by englishmen. They chose Patagonia for it’s absolute remoteness and foul climate !”*.

They founded a series of welsh towns in the area of which Trelew is one.
To be honest, there isn’t actually a lot in Trelew apart from a Welsh Museum and a Museum of Palaentology (Dinosaur bones – Patagonia is full of them). Nearby Punto Tombo is apparently a good place, in the right season, for seeing vast colonies of penguins. Unfortunately, the right season wasn’t now.
The town of Gaiman is 17km west of Trelew and is apparently one of the few demonstratably welsh towns left. Being demonstratably welsh seems to mean having several Olde Worlde Welsh Tea shops and a chapel. That said, past welsh influence was clear with several old buildings sporting Welsh on their frontages and odd names like ‘Miguel Jones’ appearing on letter boxes. The museum, which was closed when we were there, apparently has welsh speaking volounteers.

Further away from Trelew is the town of Dolavon. Have you ever had one of those experiences when you get to a remote place, see the last mode of transport for several hours, heading off into the distance, look around, see that there is, in fact, nothing to see and then burst out laughing at the silliness of the predicament ? Well, Dolavon was one of those places !
There was only one thing for it – where’s the local bar ? The Bar España was a quiet place, sparsely furnished with a wooden floor, an old pool table, pictures of past local teams on the wall and an old barman that you thought would die of overexertion everytime that he wiped the table and emptied the ashtray. The few locals present viewed us with obvious surprise when we entered but soon relaxed. We got some beers and asked about food, “Sandwiches ?”, “Si, si” and off he went to some other part of the village to get some !! How’s that for service ?
In the bar they had a game called Supo (Toad). It consists of a table with several holes in it upon which, sits a large brass frog (or toad) with it’s mouth open. You each have 4 brass counters which you have to try to get into the frogs mouth or one of the other holes for points. First one to 800 wins. The locals found it funny to watch us, especially as sometimes we missed the table completely (I blame it on the beer, I can’t remember if it was too much or too little but it was definitely the beer) and the fact they Kay won every game. It helped break the ice. After that we had a great time.
A good way of meeting locals is to play pool. You play a couple of games and then ask if they would like to have a game of doubles – never fails. Before you know where you are the beers are flowing and you’ve made some new friends including, in this case, an extremely drunk local who was determined to play guitar and sing his lungs out to two completely different tunes.

Pool

Rule differences. In Argentina there are a couple of differences to the rules in pool. Probably the best one is the idea that instead of nominating a pocket for the black, you have to pot it into the same pocket as your last ball. If both teams pot their last ball in the same pocket then the second team has to take the pocket opposite. It makes the game a lot more fun. Try it next time you play.

By the time we had to leave for the bus home we were definitely worse for wear but we’d made some new friends and there were hugs and kisses all round. They even gave us some free cans of beer for the bus ride back to Trelew !
Sometimes, some of the best experiences come from the most unexpected situations !!

Disaster
In Trelew disaster struck, or at least became evident. After several years of faithful service my camera gave up the ghost and went to whereever cameras go when their lenses don’t focus the way that they used to and their shutter closes for the final time. My pictures of Ushuaia, and believe me they were stunning, award winning photos, failed to develop. The film was blank. I’ve no complaints, it hadn’t had an easy life and had served me well. The pictures on this website are it’s epitaph. – Bugger !

Unfortunately it couldn’t have happened at a worse time !! Although Argentina is very modern and has a good selection of cameras in the shops it also has some of the highest duty on electronic items known to man, making prices almost 2 to 3 times what you would pay anywhere else and way beyond my budget. I bought a cheapo camera to use until I can replace it and the photos that you’ll see for Argentina come from that. I apologise for the photos in advance. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Whales (Yes, I can spell)
After Trelew we headed up to Puerto Madryn, another originally welsh town. We’d come here for a specific reason – whales ! Puerto Madryn is the main town before the entrance to the Peninsular Valdes National Park and is quite a nice place with a beach etc and a good feel.
We did a day trip to the Peninsular which was fantastic. At Puerto Pyramide, a small port within the park, we took a zodiac out into the bay hoping to see the Humpbacked whales that come here to breed. We weren’t disappointed ! It was just amazing, you almost had to pinch yourself to make sure that you weren’t dreaming. At one point a whale came to within 5m of the boat (honestly) and then dived, fluke high in the air. Simply awesome !
Next stop was Punto Delgardo where there is a colony of sealions, hundreds of them. We lay atop the cliff overlooking the beach and watched them. They are so clumsy on land but in the water – wow, like angels ! I could have stayed there all day.
The last stop was to see a colony of Elephant Seals which are similar to sealions but bigger, much bigger ! How I missed my camera !!

Back in Puerto Madryn things were also good. In Argentina the national food, if you like, it Asado and Parrillada which is basically meat roasted over an open fire. They also have restaurants called Tenedor Libres (Free Forks) which is basically an “as much as you can eat” buffet of many different dishes including an Asado and Parrillada for as little as $4 US.
Following tradition, we also found a pool hall ! We only went in for a couple of games but emerged 9 hours later after copious amounts of beer, more games of pool than I have ever played in my life before, the dance routine for one of the Backstreet Boys songs (don’t ask) and several new friends including an old guy who used to live in Germany, the Uraguayan captain of a fishing fleet, 2 members of the Argentinian Navy and a couple of the local prostitutes !!
We left the pool hall at around 4:30 and decided to go straight to the beach. So we grabbed a tent and our sleepingbags and then got a cab for the 20km drive to a remote beach called the Playa Doradillo. The taxi driver thought that we were nuts but we were on a mission. We put up the 2 man tent in the dark and the rain and then the 3 of us wedge ourselves into it. It’s the most intimate that I’ve been with anyone for a long time. Shame I was sleeping next to Mark !
The next morning (3 hours later) we awoke to the sound of rain and one of those “What the hell am I doing here ?” moments. We unzipped the door of the tent and…..wow, a whale casually swimming past in the bay below !! That was why we were here. Francesco, the Italian guy in Ushuaia, had told us of this remote beach where the whales come in the morning to within 10 m of the beach and play and roll etc. He was right. We got absolutely drenched watching them but it was unreal, truely amazing !

As always, though, the time eventually came to part company. I was heading off west to a place called Bariloche and Mark and Kay were heading north. It was sad to say goodbye but we’d had a great 10 days together. Thanks guys !!

Bariloche
San Carlos de Bariloche, to give it it’s full name, is in a truely beautiful setting, on the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi and with snowcapped mountains in every direction. The town itself is a nice enough place and has a ski-resort feel to it. I actually stayed about 7km outside in a YHA hostal called the ‘Albergue Alaska’, a snug wooden lodge located between Bariloche and the ski-area of Catedral. Bariloche had been recommended to me by several different people and that, plus the chance of maybe getting in some snowboarding, was too much to resist.
I was also looking for a place to rest. I was exhausted after travelling with Kay and Mark, my diary (I’ve kept one for everyday since I started this trip) had fallen a bit behind, and I desperately needed to do some serious spanish study – languages, unfortunately, don’t teach themselves. Alaska was perfect, it was quiet, in beautiful surroundings, cheap, comfy, had cooking facilities and even a selection of videos. What’s more I discovered that the ski season, which I thought I’d be too early for, started 2 days after I arrived – just perfect !!

I ended up staying there for 10 days. I got my diary up to date, did loads of spanish, caught up on lots of films that I’d always meant to see at the cinema but, for whatever reason, hadn’t got around to, and got in 3 days of snowboarding which was just superb !! The conditions weren’t always great, sometimes the visibility was practically nil, but the snow was just perfect with good powder and very few people. A big “Thank you” to Lautrano, Antonia and Cristina with whom I skied. I really appreciated your company.
It was hard to drag myself away but it was time to move on again and to head across the Pampas (Argentina’s agricultural heartland) to the capital city, Buenos Aires.

Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires is built on the banks of the Rio de la Plata (“River of Silver”, named during the time when silver used to be transported down river from mines further upstream). It is a big, busy city with lots going on and a good feel to it. I spent days simply walking around and seeing what I could find. If you ever go to Buenos Aires then let me recommend a few things.

Recoleta
Recoleta is a well to do area to the north of the centre of town. It has a nice park and cafés etc but, more interestingly, a cemetary. They say that it’s cheaper to live your whole life like a king than to die and be buried in Recoleta. The Cemetary is just unreal, a different world.
As a northern european I am used to graveyards being like fields with crosses and headstones in neat rows. The southern european idea of putting photos on graves I’ve always found dead spooky, it really gives me the creeps. Don’t ask me why, maybe it makes it all a bit too personal – this was once a real person – or maybe it’s the idea of the eyes looking at you as you stand by the grave, whatever.
One thing that we don’t often have in the UK are mausoleums – buildings to house the dead. Recoleta is a veritable town of mausoleums, street after narrow street after narrrow street. What’s more, is that you can see into the mausoleums and actually see the coffins – in plain view. Some of the mausoleums had broken doors and you could theoretically have reached out and touch the coffins !! Freak out factor: very high !
Recoleta Cementary’s most famous ‘resident’, for want of a better term, is probably a certain María Eva Duarte de Perón – Evita, who died of cancer in 1952, aged 33. Her coffin lies in the Duart family’s mausoleum.
It was quite moving seeing the final resting place of someone so famous. I had to consciously stop myself from whistling “Don’t cry for me Argentina” as I wandered around the rest of the cemetary !

La Boca
The next place that I would recommend is an area called “La Boca”. It’s home to the famous Boca Juniors football team, for whom Maradonna once played and is also a place of street art, colourfully painted houses, and galleries. It’s a nice place to spend an afternoon.

The Tango
Apart from Evita probably the most famous cultural ‘export’ from Argentina is the Tango. It evolved around the turn of the 20th Century in the bars and brothels of the San Telmo district of Buenos Aires. Tango, however, is not only dance, it is also a whole style of music and song made famous by the likes of Carlos Gardel et al. If you’re in Buenos Aires then you have to see a Tango performance. If you’re lucky, sometimes you see them on the street. I actually went to a show and it was simply amazing. The dance is so complicated, so fast and so passionate that it really does take your breath away.

Summary
I adored Argentina. The country and it’s culture are beautiful and diverse and it’s people are some of the nicest that I’ve met on my trip so far. Visit if you can.

On the 30th of June I boarded a ferry to cross the Rio de la Plata where a new country and some new experiences were waiting.

I’ll talk to you soon,

Iain


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Santiago & Southern Chile

April 15th, 2000

On the 14th April I found myself in a plane descending to anew continent: South America.
After a year spent in the tropics my body and wardrobe were to be in for a shock – cold weather !!

Santiago
It was a dark, cold and wet Friday evening when I landed in Santiago and the first thing that I did was to retrieve my, until then, practically unworn fleece from the depths of my rucksack. I got some strange looks as I walked around looking for accommodation wearing a pair of shorts and beach shoes !

I really liked Santiago, it had a really good feel to it. It’s is a surprisingly European city with large wide streets, a metro system and modern shops which tend to follow the Asian idea of collectivity: It may take you a while to find a particular kind of shop but once you’ve found one, you’ve found them all !
Talking of shopping, Chileans have a strange love of the receipt. I think that it’s a legal requirement but it means that you get them for absolutely everything: from an hour on the internet to buying a hamburger.
They also have a system in some shops where you have to wait to be served by someone who will collect what you want together and give you a receipt. You then have to join another queue to pay and then, armed with a new “I have paid” receipt, go back to the original person to exchange it for your goods. Why you can’t just pay the first person is beyond me. Another Santiago fad are “alternative” coffee bars with blacked out windows where you are served cortados by girls wearing nothing more than skimpy underwear. I guess that’s what they mean here by “Café con leching”. Harmless enough I guess, just don’t ask for extra milk.

The down side to Santiago is the smog – it is unreal. When people told me that Santiago was at the foot of the Andes and surrounded my mountains I didn’t believe them – they just were not visible. Then we had a few clear days and suddenly the mountains were there, right in front of you. Absolutely stunning. Unfortunately the smog returned and they disappeared again.

No rest for the wicked
My first few days in Santiago were hectic. That first night I intended to get something to eat at the hostel and then to get some sleep after a long flight. At dinner I got talking to some people and that was it, the next few days became a blur of drinking, dancing, 6am’s and lots of fun. One thing I’ve learnt from travelling is that it’s always the most unexpected things that turn out to be the most fun, probably because there are no expectations and so everyone just goes with the flow. The South Americans have a reputation for loving football and so we went to a football match: Universidad Catholica versus Santiago Morning. We got absolutely drenched but enjoyed it thoroughly. At one end of the stadium in the pouring rain were the die-hard fans complete with drums, flags and fireworks. They chanted and sang without a pause for the whole 2 hours !! At the end of the game the referee and linesmen remained in the middle of the pitch and waited to be escorted from the pitch surrounded by 7 policemen, complete with riot shields !!

Mendoza
For the Easter weekend I went to Mendoza in Argentina. Crossing the Andes was beautiful and Mendoza itself was a nice town even if the Argentinean prices were a bit of a shock.

Spanish Lessons
Whilst in Santiago I decided to take some spanish lessons. I aim to be in South America around 4 to 5 months and so it makes sense to do lessons right at the beginning to obtain a basic grasp of the language. I can then use it as I travel around and also afterwards, in the real world (whatever that is ?).

I studied at the Natalis Language Centre in the centre of town and did a basic course for 3 weeks that focused on grammar – so if you want to know how to conjugate spanish verbs in the Imperfect Subjunctive, I’m your man !! I’ve taken lessons in several languages and it never ceases to amaze me as to how the brain works. If I’m in a situation “on the street” when I need my French, for example, then my brain takes an age to remember the words and phrases. Put me in a language class though and the languages that I don’t need are there immediately, even though they tends to confuse things. It’s as if the brain says “Aha, foreign language !!” and proceeds to regurgitate any foreign word or pronunciation that it can find, however irrelevant, as if it’s doing you a favour. Learning spanish helped me to remember more French and Italian than I would have thought possible.
Whilst taking lessons there was also the chance to give “something back” to the school. Marie and Gerry, an Irish couple with whom I studied, and myself spent a few evenings setting up a simple website for the school which you can see if you click on the school’s name above. It’s good to keep the brain ticking over.

Armed with a new found language, of sorts, it was time to start heading south. The winter was fast approaching and it was becoming a race against the ever changing weather.

Chilean Lake District
The Chilean Lake District is an area of beautiful lakes, waterfalls and snowcapped mountains and volcanoes. From Santiago I headed down to the reasonable non-descript town of Temuco at the north of the district and from there to Pucón. Pucón is a pretty town between the shores of Lake Villarrica and the foot of volcán Villaricca with it’s near perfect cone. Here I sat in thermal springs, went horse riding, walking, generally relaxed and enjoyed the company of the great people that I met there. I wanted to climb to the top of the volcano where you can apparently see the molten lava inside but weather conditions wouldn’t allow. Next time maybe.
From Pucón I headed further south to the island of Chiloé.

Chiloé
Isla Grande de Chiloé is a large island to the south east of Puerto Montt. It is a beautiful place of green undulating hills and forests and is rich in traditional folklore and legend. It’s also one of the poorest parts of Chile.
Being in Chiloé was like going to another world. Most of the roads are unpaved. Castro, the capital, with it’s salmon pink and violet painted cathedral is a colourful sprawling mass of dodgy looking housing. Chonchi, a small village on the east coast is like going back in time. You know the old photos you see sometimes of such and such a place back in 1870 etc. Well that’s how Chonchi is now – you almost expect to see things in black and white ! If Chonchi is back in time then the island of Lemuy, just offshore, is a different planet. Jesuit churches abound here and it is a beautiful, peaceful place with a backdrop of the snowcapped mountains and volcanoes of the mainland.
Following Darwin, who was here with HMS Beagle back in the 19th Century, I went from Chonchi to Cucao a small village on the Pacific coast. It was 35km and the owner of the hostel where I was staying said that the buses were few and far between and that I’d have no problem hitching. He was right, every car that passed gave me a lift ! Unfortunately, only 5 cars passed and none of them were going to Cucao. I ended up walking about 20 of the 35km. That said, is was amazing. Talk about the back of beyond. There was only one telephone in the village and one TV channel. Apparently, they only got electricity 7 years ago ! Most of the village went about on horseback and the beach was a strange mix of the mighty Pacific’s pounding waves and of cows standing in the shallow surf munching pieces of seaweed. I loved it.

After Chiloé I spent a couple of days in Puerto Varas, just to the north of Puerto Montt and then headed south.

Heading South
On the 22nd of May I took the Navimag boat, the “Puerto Eden” for the 1200km trip from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales. A 4 day trip through the Chilean Fjords. It’s actually a cargo ship that takes fare paying passengers, although in rather more comfort than the cargo ships of Polynesia.
It was absolutely stunning as we travelled through islands and mountains on an unbelievably calm sea and saw seals, seabirds, the odd penguin and, at one point, large blocks of ice which had broken off from some glacier or other. The soundtrack to Titanic wasn’t a popular one on the stereo at that time. For one part of the journey, around the Gulfa Del Penas (Gulf of Pity) the ship has to go from the shelter of the fjords and out into the open sea. People I’d met that had done the trip before had had stories of the whole boat throwing up for 12 hours. Apparently one of the sales clerks, when asked if the trip would be rough, had replied: “Around the Gulfa Del Penas you’ll think that the boat is going to sink but just remember, it does this journey every week”. Very reassuring ! As it happened, the sea on our trip was so calm that we hardly noticed.
The boat was practically empty as far as passengers were concerned, but the people that were there were a great bunch and we had a lot of fun drinking, chatting, playing silly games, recounting strange dream experiences involving potatoes, and learning all about a small worm called Strateodrillis that lives on the gills of a hermit crab. Don’t ask !
We stopped only once, at Puerto Eden. Only accessible by boat, to say that it’s in the middle of nowhere is like asking the Pope if he’s a Catholic.
On a cold, foggy, Thursday morning we entered Seno Ultimo Esperanza (Last Hope Sound) and landed in Puerto Natales a nice, if desolate place, with amazing scenery.

Torres Del Paine
A few years ago, I read a book by Michael Palin called “Full Circle”. It was a travelogue of his journey around the countries of the Pacific Rim and in it he visited The Torres Del Paine National Park. The photos and his description of the place planted a seed in my mind: I was determined to get there one day. Well, the time had come.

“Paine” is apparently an old Indian word meaning “blue”. So “Torres Del Paine” translates to “Towers of Blue” and “Cuernos Del Paine” to “Horns of Blue” – probably referring to the dark granite tops of the mountains.

In Puerto Natales a group of 5 of us got together to go trekking for 3 to 4 days. The first day, we travelled to the park and across Lake Pehoé where we got a view of the Cuernos Del Paine. It was just amazing, it was the picture in the book but here before me, “In the flesh”. That night we stayed in the Refugio Pehoé and the following damp day walked to the Glacier Gray which was quite great. The Lake running from the glacier (Lago Grey) was full of icebergs of white and of a blue that has to be seen to be believed. Day three was simply a hard slog from the Refugio Pehoé to the Hostería Las Torres on the other side of the park. Being winter these were the only two places in which to stay in the whole park. It was a wet and cloudy day but with no choice we simply put our heads down and walked for 7 hours. A nice surprise awaited us though: a hotel. Apparently the authorities only gave permission to build the hotel if they offered accommodation to trekkers during the winter months when the hostel was closed, at the same price as the hostel:
I.e.. $16 instead of $130. Bargain. We woke up refreshed on day 4 with sunshine and blue skies, ready for our ascent to the Torres themselves. It was hard work to get there, clambering over icy boulders, but well worth it: they were absolutely stunning (see the photos).
That afternoon we headed back to Puerto Natales, exhausted but happy – we’d walked about 70km during our time in the park. A beautiful pink sunset lit up the Torres Del Paine as we headed home…farewell to a very special place.

After a couple of days recovering in Puerto Natales I moved on to the last city in Chile, Punta Arenas.

Punta Arenas
On the western shore of the Strait of Magellan, Punta Arenas in the most southerly city in Chile. It’s original economy was based on sealskins, Guanaco hides and mineral products but that changed when 300 pure-bred sheep were introduced from the Falklands. The wool market boomed and great estancias (ranches) appeared changing the economy of southern Patagonia almost overnight.
Punta Arenas today is a sprawling, bleak, windy, outpost of a city. Nice enough for a couple of days but that’s about it.

The Ends of….
I’d thoroughly enjoyed Chile. It’s a beautiful, safe place and the people are just lovely.
Pinochet only came up a couple of times. Once when I was in the middle of a huge queue in the main post office in Santiago at the time. No problem though.

When you think of traveling then maybe you think of going to the ends of the earth. From Punta Arenas it was time to go to one of those ends, the most southerly city of the American continent and of the world….Ushuaia !!

But that’s for next time…..

Take care.

Iain


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A Feeling of Dejá Vu
Monday 27th March 2000 will go down as a very special day in my life. Why ? Because it’s the only day, so far, that I’ve lived twice !! I left Fiji at 7am on Monday 27th March and eventually landed in Tahiti at 11:30pm on Sunday 26th March – a good 7.5 hours before I’d left ! What’s more, is that I’d had a full day exploring Auckland. So the 27th wasn’t simply theoretical – I did actually have it.

My second Monday 27th March started at Faaa International Airport on the French Polynesian Island of Tahiti with myself and countless other backpackers sleeping on the floor of the main concourse of the airport. For some reason all international flights to and from Tahiti, tend to arrive and depart in the middle of the night, but services, such as: banks, public transport, tourist info etc. only run during the day ! So, unless you happen to be a ‘proper’ tourist and get collected by your resort, then the airport floor has to make do as your bed for the night. That said, no-one seemed to care and it seems to be the standard backpacker introduction to Polynesia.

French Polynesia
French Polynesia is separated into 5 groups of islands: the Societies, the Tuamotus, the Marquesas, the Gambiers and the Australs.
Most of these groups are rather remote from Tahiti (in the Society Islands) and as I only had 18 days I decided to do a mini tour of the Society Islands. For a long time I’d heard about an island paradise called Bora Bora and decided to make it my birthday island. If you have to have your birthday somewhere then why not on one of the most beautiful islands in the world !! Life’s a real bitch sometimes !!

Several things strike you almost as soon as you arrive in Polynesia:

  • Firstly, that the women are absolutely stunning !! (I’m sure that the men are too….)
  • Secondly, that almost nobody speaks English. Please don’t misunderstand me; I don’t mean that from a perspective that everyone should speak English (that view couldn’t be further from the truth) but simply from the observation that in tourist areas they generally do and it was noticeable that in Polynesia they generally don’t. Just an observation.
  • Thirdly are the prices. The expression: “How Much ??!!” is heard countless times in the first few days here. Although there is no real direct tax, indirect tax and import tax are very high in order, in part, to support the overpaid French civil-servants that there are. That, and the fact that many goods, instead of being imported from other countries in the area, are shipped all the way from France (?!) means that prices are some of the highest I’ve encountered
    traveling so far.
  • Lastly, French Baguettes !! It seemed strange being so far from Europe but with fantastic French bread!

Monday 27th March – Take Two
After finally being able to get some money from the bank (it’s the only place in the world so far where my Cirrus card hasn’t worked !! God, what a whinger !!) it was time to work out how to get around the Society Islands.
Apparently, there used to be 2 ferries: a slow one and a fast one. The fast one put the slow one out of business and then subsequently broke down and has never been fixed. I discovered this when I found the ferry office and asked when it would next be leaving and they nonchalantly said “Not sure, maybe May !” – Ask a silly question….
Thank God for the Lonely Planet – at least it makes good toilet paper !! That said, I wasn’t sure that I really wanted to travel on a ferry called the “Ono Ono” anyway….sounds a bit too much like: “Oh no! Oh no!”

Apart from flying, which was a tad expensive, there was another alternative….cargo ship !!
I was by now traveling with a German girl called Mattea (Hi Mattea) and when we arrived at 5 o’clock for the ferry we found the “Deck Passenger” room to be light, airy and complete with mattresses on the floor. Better than we’d expected !! We’d just made ourselves comfortable (it was going to be a 16hr trip) when we were then told that the mattresses were already reserved and that we’d have to go to the “other” passenger area…. Now I don’t know if you’ve ever slept in the cargo hold of a ship, probably not, but I can tell you that it’s one of those experiences that will stay with you for a long time. The floor was simply covered with plastic sheeting and the feeling when the heavy metal cargo doors close above you with an almighty “BANG”, cutting out all natural light, is a tad off-putting to say the least – A few shackles here and there and it could have been a slave ship. That said, it could have been worse: the sea was calm and we were able to sit up on deck in the evening and only went down into the hold to sleep.

Bora Bora
The next morning we awoke after a surprisingly good nights sleep – so good in fact that someone had managed to steal Mattea’s camera without either of us noticing !!
Bora Bora has a reputation of being one of the most beautiful islands in the world and to be honest it’s well deserved (see the photo gallery). A quick geology lesson…
Bora Bora is what is known as a “High Island” with a central, once volcanic, island around which has formed a barrier reef enclosing a shallow lagoon. Over time, this barrier reef has broken the surface forming smaller islands or Motus’. As the process continues, the central island is eroded and finally disappears leaving just the surrounding motus’. It is then known as an Atoll.

Bora Bora is, without question, simply stunning with many exclusive resorts and visiting cruise ships. It’s hard to explain, and of course there are always exceptions, but the ‘feel’ of the island is very touristy, and the locals although polite enough, aren’t warm. The tourist dollar does seem to take precedence.

Bora Bora was the inspiration for the 50’s musical “South Pacific” as American GI’s were posted here during WWII and used the island as a supply base. I have a father and sister who are very ‘into’ musicals and played them continuously throughout my formative years. This has led to me having the extremely dubious distinction of being able to recite almost any song of any musical at the drop of a hat ! One day, as I was cycling around the island feeling extremely lucky to be alive (my appreciation of life has increased dramatically over the past year), all I could think about was a song from South Pacific called “Happy Talk”. It goes like this:


Happy talking, talking, happy talk,
Talk about things you like to do.
You’ve got to have a dream,
If you don’t have a dream,
How you going to have a dream come true ?

It may sound a bit sentimental but I realised that here I was, on a beautiful day, cycling around one of the most beautiful islands in the world because I’d followed a dream – it had come true. Dreams don’t have to be big but you do have to have them, otherwise they’ll never come true !! Just a thought.

Maupiti
Whilst in Bora Bora I took the opportunity to visit the high island of Maupiti which is a 2 hour boat ride from Bora Bora. It is absolutely stunning, the people were lovely and there isn’t a single tourist resort. You can walk around the island in a couple of hours and even climb the hill above the village for some amazing views of the reef and lagoon. Apparently it’s how Bora Bora was 50 years ago or so….food for thought.

“Happy Birthday to me” and Huahine
At 12:20am on the 2nd of April 1969 I made my appearance on the stage of life. (I will always be eternally grateful to my mother for holding on those extra 20 minutes!!). Now, exactly 31 years later, it was time to celebrate again. So for my birthday I bought myself a plane ticket to the Huahine so that I could see the islands from the air. The 15 minutes of the flight were stunning !!
My birthday was actually very quiet as I didn’t know anyone on Huahine. I hardly spoke to anyone the whole day and with no telephone or email available it was probably the quietest birthday that I have ever had. That said, I had a good meal (a nice change from 2-minute noodles) and spent the afternoon on a beautiful white sandy beach, sitting under a tree, reading a good book, so it wasn’t all bad !!

Talking of books… I’ve read quite a few in the last year but there are two that I would particularly like to recommend: “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov and “The God of Small Things” by Arundhati Roy. Both are stunning examples of the English language and are simply a joy to read.

I really enjoyed Huahine I think mainly because you got the feeling that it was a
Polynesian island for Polynesians. It was much more relaxed and the people were very friendly and helpful.
We saw some traditional dancing at one of the hotels on the island and believe me, what the women can do with their hips is one of the most erotic things you’ll ever see. No wonder the early missionaries banned the traditional dancing when they arrived !!
I stayed there 6 days in the end, relaxing, writing, cycling, diving etc – it was great.

Moorea
My next island was Moorea. To get there though I had to get another cargo ship back to Tahiti and then a ferry to Moorea.
This cargo ship was a bit different from the first. It was actually nicer, as a ship, and the passenger area was an outside area, covered by tarpaulin and with a wooden slatted floor, high up at the back of the ship. The journey, though, was unbelievable. The wind blew a gale and the ship pitched and rolled for most of the night. Unfortunately, the wooden floor was painted with gloss paint and that, linked to the polyester of my sleeping bag, meant that with every heavy roll of the ship you found yourself hurtling at full speed across the floor towards the other side of the deck and then back again !! The only solution was to ‘sleep’ with one arm within reach of the surrounding rail and then to hold on for dear life every time the ship rolled. It was a long 13 hours !!

Moorea was beautiful !! If you’ve ever seen the film: “Mutiny on the Bounty” with Mel Gibson, then it’s the island that was used for that. Again, a lot of time was spent relaxing, writing, snorkeling and scootering around the island.

Actually, I was suffering a bit of a downer on Moorea. It happens every once in a while and is to be expected I guess. I think that it was a mixture of being gone almost a year; my birthday (another year older); uncertainty about South America; and Manoj calling it a day and going back to the UK – for those that don’t know Manoj is the guy that I originally started traveling with and, although we hadn’t travelled together for over 10 months, there was a kind of security in knowing that someone else was doing the same thing. It was the usual: What am I doing ? What about the future ? How much longer do I travel ?
What will happen in South America ? Missing friends and family etc 

One thing that I did decide was not to fly to Buenos Aires. I was supposed to fly to Santiago and then the next day to continue to BA. For some reason, though, my gut feeling said to stay in Santiago and to forget the flight to BA – my round the world ticket expired 2 days later anyway so it didn’t make much difference. Don’t ask me why, it just felt right.
Actually, after deciding that and meeting others going to South America my mood and indecision lifted completely and my passion for traveling returned in a way that I haven’t felt for a while. I just couldn’t wait to get there !!

The time came soon enough and soon I sitting on the airport floor in Tahiti for 7 hours waiting for my plane. It was as if I’d never left !

Easter Island
I’ve always wanted to go to Easter Island, it’s just one of those fascinating places. Unfortunately my round the ticket wouldn’t let me. Ironically, we had to have a refueling stop there on our way from Tahiti to Santiago, we just wasn’t allowed to leave the airport !! So yes, I’ve been there, seen it but haven’t done anything !!

A New Continent
After the long flight from Tahiti we arrived in Santiago, Chile. What a shock !!! I’ve spent the last year in hot, sunny climates and as we approached Santiago it was dark, cold, wet and foggy, a dark, dank autumnal evening…….but that’s for next time.

Take Care,
Iain


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