Tag Archives: world

A week in Chile

14 Mar

After our time in Bolivia, we headed to Chile. Here is a brief summary about what we got up to –

Border crossing

This was the most ridiculous border crossing I have experienced which started when our bus departed an hour later than its scheduled time for no good reason. And ended with us waiting for around 3 hours to get through immigration because Chile only had one person on the immigration desk to Bolivia’s three, which caused a bottle neck!

Iquique

We arrived in Iquique after spending almost a day travelling. Iquique is on the coast and the smell of the salt air smacked you around the face when we got off the bus. The city is surrounded by sand dunes and the main street looks like something out of the Wild West.

There was plenty to do in Iquique. We explored the black sandy beaches, visited the fish market and saw and tasted some of the freshest catches of the day first hand, we planned paragliding (which was sadly cancelled), we went sandboarding and brought home about half of the sand dunes to the hotel, visited a thermal baths and the ghost town of Humberstone and Santa Laura, which used to be one of the biggest potassium nitrate mines in Chile.

The bus we travelled on to Humberstone also broke down and we had to wait for a replacement that took about 2 hours to get to us.

Santiago

We headed to the capital. The difference to Iquique and Bolivia couldn’t have been more stark. Being in Iquique was like being in Barcelona. Starbucks, Dominos, McDonalds and KFC everywhere – I was enjoying not missing these outlets! The city was bigger and lots more people were around.

We went to what we thought was another Jesus statue on a hill. When we got there we realised it was Mary. There was a great view of the whole city from the top. I was glad there was a funicular to get us up there. I never would have made it up there if I had had to walk.

On Sundays they close some of the main roads so people can bike, roller-blade and run along the streets, which is a great initiative.

The city is also full of amazing street art. I absolutely love it!

Valparaiso

We took the bus to what we thought was going to be a small fishing village but actually it was a lot bigger than we thought. We took a free walking tour and discovered a lot about the city’s history and what life is like for people here in the past and now.

The town is full of creative people and the old prison had actually been turned into a creative arts centre for artists, dancers and even cooks. What a great idea!

Not surprising that the city is also full of mosaics, murals and more street art!

We have now safely arrived back in Argentina; more specifically we are in Mendoza, wine country. Our accommodation is at the site of a vineyard. I think it is safe to say we will be sampling the local produce!

Cheers from Mendoza!

Travel update

9 Mar

Greetings from Iquique in Chile! A few of you have been in contact and have been wondering how we have been getting on in South America so far. I will write more when I am home (I have been keeping my diary up to date) but so far, so good.

I did have a few really bad reactions to mosquito bites in Iguazu and Sao Paulo and a bit of sunburn in Boliva, but apart from that healthwise, we are both fine.

Here is a short summary of what we have been up to so far:

Buenos Aires, Argentina

I arrived here in what seems like an age ago. Markus was very excited to see me and promptly walked the legs off me, showing me everything that he had discovered in the seven weeks previously. We will be back again to Buenos Aires at the end of the trip but my first impressions were that it is a really nice city. It’s not quite was I was expecting, with large open spaces and lots of public areas. It will be nice to come back here at the end of the trip.

Iguazu, Argentina and Brazil

I love waterfalls and I am slowly ticking off the biggest and the best in world one by one. We had heard differing reviews about which side is the best side to see the Falls from, so we saw it from both. Water is such a powerful, beautiful thing. Unfortunately, when we were there, the weather wasn’t great and we did get a bit wet but we would have got wet from the spray from the waterfall anyway so it didn’t matter much. Plus, as a Brit, I never leave home without waterproofs!

Sao Paulo, Brasil

This stop-over was never part of the original plan but we stopped here because the route was easier to take. The problem was that Portuguese and Spanish are quite different languages. We had no idea what people were saying most of the time. I was pleasantly surprised by the city. There seemed to be quite a lot to do and there is a lot of history surrounding the city. Unfortunately, there is a huge problem with homelessness here.

Santa Cruz, Bolivia

We hardly saw any other tourists here (maybe 3 other couples?). There were some interesting things happening in the main square and the colonial past of the city was quite apparent. We visited a wildlife centre where you could really get up close to exotic birds, butterflies and tarantulas, which I loved.

Cochabamba, Bolivia

Most tourist only visit Cochabamba to see the statue of Jesus Christ which overlooks the city. It is in fact bigger than the statue in Rio, on which it is modelled. We also visited the market, which is the largest open-air market in the whole of Latin America, and Laguna Angostura, where we enjoyed a nice lunch of fish and chips on the lake.

La Paz, Bolivia

Arriving in El Alto airport at 4,000m above sea level feels like you have been slapped around the face with a brick. It took me a while to adjust to it but I was glad of the cooler temperature for a few days. Here we took a free walking tour where we learnt a lot about the city and the politics of Bolivia. I was amazed that instead of trams, you have to take a cable car. What a commute that must be!

We also saw traditional Bolivian wrestling which was an experience. As we were up in the mountains and there was a Swiss Fondue restaurant, we had to indulge a bit in some home food comforts.

Uyuni, Bolivia

Another bucket list was ticked off my list when we visited Salar De Uyuni. I have wanted to go here for longer than I can remember. Armed with wellies and a camera, we set off to explore. It was like being on another planet – so calm and dream like. It far exceeded my expectations. We also waited there until sunset; just magical!

Oruro, Bolivia

This is THE place to be in Bolivia for Carnival time. We were obviously a bit too late for carnival but we did manage to see the statue of the Virgin Mary (which you can’t really miss) and some silver mines. We actually went into the silver mine with the president of the cooperative. It was a bit unnerving and I spent most of the time wondering if they had passed a health and safety inspection so that tourist can visit. Answer: definitely not. There is more to explain about this experience and I will promise to update you soon!

And that is us about up to date. As I said we are now in Iquique in Chile, enjoying the warmer weather and the amazing seafood on offer.

I will write again soon to let you know that we are still alive and enjoying life.

Until next time, or as we say here, Hasta luego!

What has annoyed me most this year

23 Nov

What has annoyed me most this year is perhaps not so surprising. I have spent a lot of time in airports and travelling. It isn’t the actually travelling that has been annoying. Although at one point, I was longing to stay at home and just relax in my own environment. The thing that annoys me about travelling is other people.

If I could get to the airport, board a plane to myself and not have to interact with anyone at all during this time, I would be over the moon. Other people just make travelling more stressful.

It isn’t even other passangers that irritate me. But there is always more than one person, wheeling a trolley behind them with no ide how to control it. People wheeling luggage also forget the concept of other people and think that ambling along without a care in the world, while blocking the way for people trying to get to their gate, is a completely acceptable state of affairs.

Then there are the people who can’t possibly have been on a plane before. Nor have they read any of the 100 signs in the queue for security that say that any fluids need to be in a transparent, plastic bag. The look of surprise on their faces amazes me when they realise that they now have to rout around in the bag to get the contraband out and in the correct bag to be inspected. How can anyone not know the regulations and not ready themselves for it well in advance?

Then there is the person at security with the tray who asks, as I am unzipping my bag to get out my already-prepared, plastic bag. Once I almost turned round and said, “Give me a bloody minute will you, love?” But I didn’t know how to say it in French so I decided to give it a miss. And then she asked me if I had an iPad. I pointed to the iPad which was already sitting in the tray, waiting to be scanned. I’m sure that these people are so bored that they are trying to make conversation

Nothing irritates me more than when I finally get on the plane and someone else have take all the space in the locker above the seat. I have seen people get on planes and put their luggage in the first available locker even though they are sat at the back of the plane. Do not be these people. It is so unhelpful and a huge pain in the ass because it means that your luggage is not next to you when you come to get off. So you have to wait until you can go to the back of the plane to find it.

Taking of leaving the aircraft: where exactly do people think that they are going when they get up before the seat belt sign has been switched off. Everyone has been expressedly been told not to take off their seatbelt but people do at the first opportunity. What advantage do they think that they can gain on their fellow passangers when the crew are still strapped into their seats? Planes aren’t like buses or trains. If you don’t get off on a bus within 30 seconds or less, you have missed your stop and will have to get off at somewhere that you don’t want to. With a plane, everyone has arrived at their final destination. If you don’t get off now, it doesn’t mean that you have to wait for the next stop which is in 13 hours and is in Hong Kong. It does annoy me that people can’t take listen to instructions and do what someone else tells them to. If this is how adults behave, how can we expect children to behave any better?

Rant over. That is until I head off to the aiport again, which, knowing me, won’t be too long at all.

Battambang and onwards to Bangkok

28 Apr

We left Siem Reap behind and headed to Battambang, a 3 hour drive away. Battambang is a very quiet town and not aimed at tourists in the same way that Siem Reap. It was a shame that we would only be spending a night here.

The weather was a bit stormy and I decided to have a swim before it started raining. I was faced with a green pool (just like the diving pool in the Rio Olympics!). It turns out that it was green because it was saltwater and not that there was anything wrong with it in anyway.


A short time later we went to take the Bamboo train. The bamboo train is a very basic trainlome which is was originally used to transport goods to the surrounding areas and for local who don’t have access to cars. Nowadays it is more of a tourist attraction. 

The strange thing is that there is only one track. If two carts are coming in the opposite direction, one of the carts has to be taken on the track so that the other one can pass. There are rules determining which cart needs to make way for the other one. Apparently, if there are multiple carts then these take priority. Then the number of people, how heavy the carts is etc etc. It sounds complicated but it is probably a lot easier than building a separate track for the other direction. 


After this we went to a see a bat cave. I was really excited about going into a cave but it turned out that we were going inside anywhere. There was a opening in the mountain side where the bats flew out of. There were hundreds of thousands of them swarming out of the cave and disappearing into the distance to find some insects for dinner. We then took 4x4s up the mountain to take in view. In the distance we could still see the swarms of bats making their way into the evening.

We later went to have a home dinner. The wife of one of the Tuk-Tuk drivers cooked for us at their home. He told us he married her after knowing her for only one month and I could see why. It was hands down the best food I’d eaten in Cambodia!

The next morning (after the best breakfast buffet of the whole trip!) we made our way back to Bangkok where the trip would end. It was a long drive and we had to navigate the border crossing and immigration procedure. This was hands down the most bizarre border crossing I have ever experienced – and Botswana was pretty special. We left the bus, put our bags in a wooden cart and left The Kingdom of Cambodia. While we were lining up to clear the Thai border our bags were being scanned and processed somewhere. There were people who were doing this by themselves without a guide but it wasn’t straight forward about what to do and where to go so I was glad we had the guide to help us. 

It was still a long way until we reached Bangkok and it seems that the evening traffic in Bangkok is far worse than the M25. It was time for the farewell dinner and some drinks on Khao San Road. Our guide had a habit of finding the best bars and tonight was no exception. The street was definitely lively and a bit crazy. I actually did something a bit crazy myself – I ate a scorpion! Ok it wasn’t the whole thing just a few of the legs and it didn’t really taste of anything. 


It was sad to say goodbye to the group but it was worth the memories! Just a few more days on my own and then it’s time to head home, where I believe it’s been snowing…

Miss Saigon – Part 1: Vietnamese Food

17 Apr

After swapping my Swiss Miss (via Thailand) for Miss Saigon, I was eager to get my teeth into something tasty. I’m not sure I could name one Vietnamese dish, apart from maybe a noodle soup.

At 6pm, only a few hours after I booked into the hotel, I was collected for a Street Food tour which also included a tour of the the most famous places at night. I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting but I wasn’t expecting for the guide to turn up on a motorbike, pass me a helmet and tell me to get on the back!

I’ve never been on a motorbike before and from my limited experience so far I’m not convinced that Vietnam was the best place to start. Ho Chi Minh City has a population of 10 million people and a motorbike population of just of 5 million. If Holland rode motorbikes instead of pushbikes this is  exactly how the Netherlands would be like. It doesn’t seem that there are too many road rules. People go where they want to. Roundabouts are a logistical nightmare. You round a corner on a main road and in the middle of the road is a man in the road struggling to push a cartful of mangoes up the hill. Gulp!

Luckily my guide was a careful driver and didn’t drive too fast or wildly. At first, I was hanging on to the poor sod for dear life but I soon got used to it. He left me outside a shopping centre while he parked up the car in the multi-storey. It wasn’t long before 3 children came up to me. Instantly, I put my guard up: I wasn’t sure if this was a trick to somehow distract me while an amigo helped themself to my bag. In the background, I could see a woman smiling ear to ear and I realised these were her children. The children simply wanted to practice their English with me. They told me they learn English at school and they practice as much as they can with foreigners visiting the city. One of them asked me if I was sad because I was on holiday alone? I said, no, I was having a great time anyway.

My guide took me to enjoy broken rice and poor spare ribs in a small restaurant. Broken rice is very common in Southern Vietnam and the grain of the rice is actually very small. The food was tasty as was the apple and grapefruit juice. We wondered around the main plaza which was alive with people. There are water fountain displays and lots of people were out enjoying the weather because it was Sunday. In the middle of the plaza and in front of the government buildings is a statue of Ho Chi Minh who the city is named after. I had no idea that the city is named after a person and I’m not sure there are many cities in the world that can claim that. 


After we met with a friend of his, who is also a tour guide. I think she wanted to practice her English, which was fine with me. We set off on the bikes again and crossed the Saigon River. On the bridge we made a quick stop to collect some corn that is typical Vietnamese. It was warmed with chili, spices and onions. Next stop was a few minutes away and was where the action was happening. In the evening young people gather on the bank of the river and barbecue. We found a street seller and had some fish kebabs, sausages (a bit like a German wurst), deep fried eggs in batter and a Vietnamese-style lemonade that had passionfruit in it. After stuffing myself to bursting point (as usual), we drove home in the tunnel going under the River and was back at the hotel.

The next morning was an early start. I had a cooking class to go to! Because of the bad traffic I was left waiting in the hotel lobby for 40 minutes, but the tour company had phoned in advance to tell me they would be late.

After getting stuck in traffic and arriving even later, I arrived for the class. I was in a group with four other ladies (2 Swedes, 1 from Portugal and a British lady who has been living in South Africa for almost 30 years). To being with we went to collect our ingredients and learn more about them. All of the produce is grown or produced at the site, with the exception of sugar and oil which they buy from the local market. It was so interesting to pick my own lemongrass and see how it is grown. They also grown their own oyster mushrooms in a really unique way in rubber plant shavings and plastic bags. 

I also found out how peanuts are grown. Did you know they were grown underground? When you taste them before they are roasted (like we did) they taste like peas. Really! They do! That must be why we call them peanuts in English. Thinking about it some more in German the word is Erdnuss coming from Erd for earth and Nuss from nut, which is exactly how they are grown!

On to the cooking and I was so glad to hear that we were cooking 4 courses! The first was spring rolls with a homemade dipping sauce, which I have always wanted to have a go at but I was too nervous to give it a go. They are so easy to make and I will definitely be making them when we get home and no we didn’t make that rice paper! That would have been a step too far for this amateur chef! 

Next up was a papaya salad with fried beef with lemongrass and ginger! Delicious and more and so simple to make again! Luckily, the chili was mainly for decoration for this dish or I would have been suffering later. Next was a chicken and mushroom dish that was marinaded and cooked in a clay pot. Again deliciousness personified! It didn’t look as attractive as the other dishes but the smells and flavours were incredible. 

Dessert was a banana spring roll. I have never heard of this before and to say I was sceptical was an understatement. Served with coconut icecream (I’m not a huge fan of anything coconut), it was a dream and a perfect ending to a fantastic experience and meal. Throughout the day I had learnt a lot about marinades and sauces as well as ingredients and flavour combinations. 


Our chef for the day was Mi (pronounced Me) and she helped us to prepare the dishes and answer our questions. She was a great head chef and was knowledgeable and funny (even though she told me off for forgetting to put herbs in my second spring rolls). The whole operation is run by Chef Tan who has appeared in cookery programmes with Gordon Ramsey. He told us he has two restaurants in Melbourne as well as his cookery school. If you are in the area, I highly recommend this experience to anyone and everyone. The atmosphere and staff are excellent and, even though the  course is commercially designed, it loses none of its charm and authenticity.

After the cooking class, I went to the Cu Chi Tunnels. This is a large network of connecting tunnels underground that the Vietnamese people used during the Vietnam war to evade capture from the Americans. It’s incredible that people lived underground with living rooms, workshops and medical quarters. It was also possible to go underground and see the size of the tunnels, which have actually been enlarged for tourist to see how life was like. The tunnels are narrow, dark and oppressively hot. I have no idea how much willpower these people must have needed to survive.


I don’t know very much about the Vietnam war but I will go home and read up about it. It’s a war on recent history that I never learnt about at school and is definitely a war that has shaped modern day Vietnam. History is important and it can helps us understand the world today.

Traffic jams stop me getting to the hotel in good time but enough time to relax by the pool with some very cheap beer before another long day tomorrow.