Thursday, 29 January 2009

The beautiful Norte

We're in Brazil now, and would you believe it, it has rained every day. Punishment possibly for our gloating about freezing Blighty. We're in a gorgeous seaside spot called Paraty - cobbled streets, colonial architecture, jungle inland and countless islands with soft sandy beaches to our east. Shame about the weather.

We've a few days staying in a cool pousada (Bamboo Bambu) and now that the flood waters have subsided the internet is working again and we are able to pay proper homage to the north of Argentina. The truly beautiful norte. Not that we didn't like the south - El Bolson especially (since ravaged by wild fires we've heard) and the alpine-line Lake District were pretty.

But from Mendoza on, we found Argentina stunning - mountains, salt flats, endless landscapes of mountains and valleys, towering cacti, adobe villages, llamas and palomino donkeys strolling across the roads. We were based in Salta a few days - in a delightful oasis called Bloomers, run temporarily by a Argentinean former corporate lawyer turned musician. He has a great love of James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and Brazilian Bossa Nova; and he also introduced us to some modern Argentinean bands and gave us our first bowl of mate.

And then we toured further north along the route once chugged through the Andes to Chile by the tren de los hubes (train of the clouds);

Then to the huge Salinas Grandes - mile after mile of salt plain glistening like compacted snow (below)

And then up to the almost ridiculously pretty adobe village of Purmamarca nestling beneath another cerro de los siete colores - and the unpronouncables Jujuy and the quebrada de Humauaca

Here's a few pictures while I can....lots of love and catch you later with pix I hope

Monday, 19 January 2009

A taste of Mendoza (while you are freezing)

We tried to do our bit for the Argentinean economy, as you can see. Someone has to because it is truly staggering how little the Argies drink. Christmas Eve at Ana's - there were about 18 or so of us. By the time we started to clear up at about 2 in the morning I counted just 3 (yes three) empty bottles of wine and a few bottles of beer. We discovered this relative abstinence is normal everywhere. Perhaps it also explains how most Argies manage to stay slim(ish) despite a diet of vast quantities of meat, ice cream and chocolate.

(Pic below) Amid the cab sav vine leaves at Alta Vista vinyard in the foothills of the andes. Alta Vista also makes a fab Torrontes. We visited Alta Vista, Ruca Malen, Renacer and Tapiz wineries. The Malbec in all places really good - something about the altitude and the desert atmosphere, dry, very few pests, controlled water supply etc perfect for the growing of Malbec when the grape had failed miserably in France. They also grow Cabernet Sav in all the vinyards we saw. Incidentally our favourite wine (albeit the most expensive) was a Humberto Canale Malbec from Patagonia. Fin del Mundo from Patagonia also one to watch out for.

Me sitting amid the mosaics of Plaza Espana

Sarmiento - cafes in the shade where we had countless cups of coffee and a few beers

The gringo trap

Climbing the seven colours cerro (below)

(Below) walking at about 4,000 metres under the peak of Aconcagua (about 7 thou)..difficult to breathe easily at this altitude. A 40 minute walk was enough...

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Mendoza and on - catch up

Well, Mendoza is beautiful - a desert city under the the foothills of the Andes made verdant green by the irrigation system - gullies - or gringo traps as the locals call them - which run through all the streets of the city. Mountains, with Aconcagua the highest peak outside the Himalayas just a a couple of hours away and fantastic Malbec wineries and pretty good whites (Torrontes - apologies of the lack of accents & ny signs - my keyboard won't manage them) on our doorstep.

Can personally testify to the friendliness of Mendoza people after our washing was trapped in a laundry - which was closed Saturday afternoon when we returned from Andes trekking - and we were due to bus it to Salta on Sunday. The guy at the nearby garage, his mate, the chap in the tourist office, the woman in our hotel and a random by-passer in the street - half of Mendoza it seemed were on the case, trying to locate a mobile number for the laundry owner and full of alternative suggestions. I was full of admiration for my ability to make our predicament understood in Spanish. Only later, nursing a comfortingly large vodka soda, did I realise what I'd actually said. Translates literally as: "the lavadorio is closed, and our cloth is in".

Now in Salta - and the package of clothes our hotel sent on is likely to arrive the day after we leave. This one is set to run. Virtually all J's clothes will probably follow us around the rest of Argentina - a day late everywhere, obviously.

Millions of great pictures of Mendoza - we really loved it here. And Hel and Jim, Pete and Andy- apparently the skiing here knocks Colorado into a cocked hat. Not only that but the vinyards are beautiful, the Malbec gorgeous and cheap. the only drawback for the veggies is that this is meat ago-go - meat, meat and more meat. It's fabulous but a hell of a lot of it. And not just that, the Argies have a ferociously sweet tooth. Dulce de leche - a kind of soft caramel/toffee stuff - everybody loves it - and if I say that I prefer it to jam for breakfast toast, you get the picture for how sweet the jam is.

We've marvellous pictures from Mendoza, the sun-kissed vinyards the Andes, Ruta 40, and Salta - way up north which is, if anything a more laid back Mendoza. Will post as and when, with a subtitle. I don't know. Something like: "while you are freezing".

Ana avert your eyes: J has now adopted Independiente as her team. I guess that's how much we loved Mendoza.

We hear shops are closing in the UK, M&S, and Woolies and more. People apparently are depressed and worried. J's old Mitsubishi mate, Neil, reckons it's directly attributable to our departure. "Just how much were you girls spending?", he asked us in a recent email.

thanks for the mail, Neil.

Lots of love to all

Friday, 9 January 2009

Argentina - lomo erotic

We like to travel slow, take our time, soak in the ambiance in street side cafes and bars. Even so we are moving too fast for this blog. It's been abut four weeks and in that time we've been to Buenos Aires, down south to the Lake District, Bariloche, deliciously laid back El Bolson for New Year, Los Alerces national park with its huge larch trees and lakes set against the Andes backdrop; and Trevelin - a cutesy Welsh-created Patagonian town where loads of Argentineans speak Welsh and totally out-Welshed an embarrassed Jenks. I think it was over an enormously sugary Welsh tea in cafe Nain Maggie that she threatened to kill me if I told one more person that she came from Wales.

Now we are in upwardly mobile Mendoza, the heart of Argentina's most prolific wine country - and once again the awesome Andes provides the backcloth - as it has for the entirety of our South American adventure outside Buenos Aires.

Including two overnight buses, that's eight different beds in just under four weeks. In idle moments we like to do the stats - the number of different modes of transport, towns, beds etc since we left London last July. We are up to about 69 beds now (adding in overnight trains and buses). As I say we like to travel slowly,but it's still too fast for the blog.

So it's catch up time again - hopefully with the aid of some pix - if they don't take to long to load.

Buenos Aires

The highlight here of course was hooking up with Ana. For those who don't know, Ana did her PhD (on Tony Blair) with me at the LSE, is now teaching at Glasgow University but she is from Buenos Aires and together with Orien they come back for Christmas pretty much every year. So they showed us around town, took us to a cool tango club, hosted us for the Christmas Eve bash,while Ana's dad barbecued the meat feast when we watched Liverpool draw with Arsenal one Sunday afternoon.

(Pic: Ana and the hand of God - showing us around La Boca, home to Boca Juniors footie team, once a poor area, still blue collar but now an artsie place and tourist magnet.

(Pic; The tradition of multi-coloured houses began with workers taking leftover paint from the docks and splashing the corrugated metal walls of their homes with whatever was available. This one has Argie heroes Maradona, Evita and tango singer Gardel on the balcony.

Walking thru the streets around San Telmo - gorgeously liveable part of BA and close to the centre, came across this mural. It says: for the love of Che, wear a condom. You might not see it but Che has a tatoo of Maradona on his arm - Diego famously had Che's image on his.

Pic shows the Casa Rosada and its balconies which have witnessed impassioned oratory from Evita, husband Juan Peron and countless others. It's in famous Plaza de Mayo the scene for countless demonstrations and occasional bombings in the various military coups in the 50 years up to 1983. Casa Rosada hosted a 25 years of democracy photographic exhibition with pix of its various presidents in that time.

Big thanks to Ana, her dad, her mum also Ana and Orien for looking after us so well.

Saturday, 13 December 2008


Arrived in Santiago nearly four hours before we left Auckland. No wonder we've been shattered. Not helped by the macho guys who held an all-night party down the hotel hall on our first night here. I was about to confront them at about 4am when fortunately the night porter got there first. Unfortunately, the night porter decided we needed an early morning alarm call today - maybe the fiesta guys were getting their own back.

Pleasantly surprised by Santiago thus far. It's a good city to walk, and with the snow-capped Andes in the background it's far more handsome than I suspected. Our room - on the 20th floor gives great views across the city as does the pool on the roof (as you can see).

We've decided to base ourselves here for the week with day trips to Valparaiso and Vina del Mar - and maybe the wine country.

Plenty to do in Santiago - walk the parks, stroll through the modern art galleries - and quite a bit of politics too with a fair amount of grafart around the city, the Salvador Allende solidarity art collections and the national museum. The Palacio de la Moneda - the site of the bloody 1973 coup - is also housing an exhibition of Frida and Diego; so too birds with one stone. On top of that Madonna's here. Flew in the day before us - and doing a couple of nights at the National Stadium.

Strange then that we walked about half an hour last night before we could find a decent bar to drink in. City centre streets crammed with night strollers, but nobody going anywhere apparently. Eventually found a place quite close to the hotel - and discovered that a large whisky means half a pint. Probably explains why J is still sleeping at 3pm.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Big thanks

We're now at Auckland airport waiting for the flight to Santiago and just enough time to write a huge thanks to all those who made our stay in NZ so special:
Paula, Stevie and the little athlete Josie (Hel - she's taking after you) and the smile muffin or chorizo del amore: marvellous to see Kay and Tom there too before we left.Big thanks to Rita and Gareth in Christchurch - you made us so welcome and not to mention fab dinners; Rebecca&Tony and children,Matthew and Meredith - great to meet you.

And big thanks to Darrin and Andrea - who made time somehow - for looking after us so well.

Six weeks flew by in NZ much too quickly - thanks and love to you all.


The beautiful South

We leave NZ today - time flew here too fast. Here's just a few images of the south island. For me it was magical. Lynda told us that after her round the world trip including Latin America, Asia and China - NZ was here favourite place. I can see why.

Mount Cook - the day we drove from Queenstown to Christchurch. Lucky in the wet west to have such a clear day. Only that morning a rescue helicopter saved a Japanese mountaineer trapped for six days in atrocious weather near the top. His climbing companion died - the 69th victim of this beautiful mountain.

Images from the fjord at Milford Sound

Queenstown: the adventure capital of the adventure playground of the world. I loved it - maybe not forever, but I could live there. First pic shows an image of Queenstown from the spot where I chickened out of bungy jumping...

Queenstown: the 'Remarkable' mountain as seen from the park

Walter Peak, Queenstown - midway through the journey on the Twin Screw Steamer Earnslaw.

Sailing on the huge glacial lake at queenstown - Amanda if you read this, NZ south island is a paradise for you.

Akaro - near Christchurch - where we went swimming with dolphins. Little ones - Hector dolphins that live only in NZ. Spent about 40 mins in the water with them. We were told to sing through our snorkels to attract their attention. Fields of Anfield Road worked a treat. J tried 'My Hen laid a Haddock' (aka Welsh Nat anthem) but found that flower of Scotland worked better.