Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Patchamama Tour

Dear all
We decided to ease ourselves gently into South American life & Chris recommended that we used a company called Patchamama to cover our journey down to the Chilean Lakes. The van picked us up on the thursday morning and off we trundled to the south. Our first stop was a small village called Pomaire which is famous for its pottery. As with most chilean towns the village had a sleepy feel to it and even at 12.00 noon that 'just got up' air. Most of the shops were just opening and the smell of freshly baking bread wafted down the main street from the bakers.  
Rapel Dam
We then stopped at Rapel Dam a huge hydroelectricity station which powers most of Santiago and is pretty impressive. The lake is full of black carp who swarm up to you as you approach on the scrounge for food. One big mass of open mouths yuck! The end of our day was spent at Punta Lobos with a large glass of Chilean Carmanere wine & a beautiful sunset overlooking the sea full of athletic surfers and huge pelicans. Very beautiful. A group dinner back at our first night stop in Pichilemu sealed the group dynamics over a few glasses of wine!

Day two saw us stopping at another small town Santa Cruz which is quite typical for the region apart from the fact that it has a massive museum dedicated to virtually everything! Why I hear you say? Well its all due to the very generous 'investments' of a former arms dealer who can't leave Chile as there is a world wide warrant for his arrest by the US! It is one of the best artifact museums I have ever been to with some of the best fossils and insects preserved in amber I have ever seen.  A long stretch on the road for the rest of the day brought us down to Pucon in the noth of the Chilean lakes. It was too cloudy to see Volcan Villarrica which entices most people to the area to walk to its steaming peak and slide back down the ice peak. Unfortunately the same cloud was also there on our second day so we had to settle for a long walk around the lake where Dean managed to collect a series of dogs until we had a small pack following us!

Dean reflecting on the evils of red wine!
The dogs here don't seem to belong to anyone, but are well fed and generally in good health & will take anyone for a walk given the slightest encouragement! That evening we went to the local hot pools ( with some contraband wine!) and had a  great time with our group. We had to split from the group as there wasn't enough double beds (wasn't a big deal as we had a great room!) so back at the main hostel we had a huge BBQ together and a very heavy night on the vino. Dean could hardly walk home! We also lost our first group member Jarno, who stayed to climb the Volcano ( hoping the cloud and poisonous gases clear!)

Day 4 saw us down in Valdevia a hippie university town on the banks of the Rio Valdevia it was the centre of german immigration in the mid 19th Century (war criminals!!) and chocolate and lager abounds in the centre! It is beautiful location albeit tinged with disaster as it was pretty much raised to the ground in 1960 by a huge earthquake. We had a wonder around the Feria Fluvial, a riverside fish & veggie market where sea lions and black shags cruise the edges coaxing handouts from the men filleting the fish! We also lost the second of our group Jonny & Charlotte Kiwi's who lived in Oz & had been the live wires of the group.

Last night together in Valdivia


Day five we started in Puerto Montt, a very uninspiring town albeit it is the place where you can get the coastal ferry down to Puerto Natales via the fiords. Probably very nice when the weather is great, but an expensive trip if not! We stopped for a great fish lunch in the the port & then bought a fresh salmon for dinner (another product the region is famous for!). There was also a great little handicraft market that the two Irish girls in our group, Christine & Gemma both pounced on !

Our final stop as a group was at Puerto Varas only 30 mins from our last stop, but a a much different place. There is a beautifil german settlement with stunning views of Volcano Orsorno on the other side of the lake. (when its not cloudy!). We had our final feast of salmon & steak cooked on the grill in the garden washed down by yet more Chilean red amnd as it was our last night Kevin (our Dutch group member!) bought some Champagne whoop whoop!   Once the group leave we are going to hire a car for the next couple of days and see the area in the meantime I'm off to grab another glass of red!!

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Santiago, Steak & Pisco Sours

 Dear all

What a hectic few days we have had. No sooner had we landed then, Chris had us whisked back to his flat to dump our stuff & then onto a very famous Santiago institution Las Vacas Gordas, where Maria Jose hs wife was waiting with Pisco sours at the ready. The restaurant was packed to the gills with locals enjoying a family lunch & we hastily joined in ! Meat was the order of the day (albeit I had chicken!). The wine was fantastic flowed freely! We even had a little demo outside against the visit from Obama (due the following day) which puts our UK tragic violent diatribes to shame.
 We retired back to Chris & MJ's and lets just say that it went on far too long and got far too messy!
The next day was a total write off for the boys, which didn't really matter as Obama was in town and virtually everything was closed down 'for security' ! We did however manage to take two really good walking tours, one of which took us to a bar at the end to sample a terramoto (earthquake) a terrible mix of fortified white wine, pisco sour and a dollop of pineapple icecream on top.  Sounds disgusting, tastes OK, but boy you couldn't drink two!! They sure do pack a punch
We also got to sample 'coffee with legs' a quaint Chilean tradition from the 1960's when the coffee was so bad that they had to get girls in tight short dresses to serve it in the hope men would be enticed to come in. Nowadays the saleman have more shall we say harder sell tactics with some shops having blacked out windows and regular locked doors for more 'happy moments'! I hasten to add we did the former not the latter! Although there are loads of great buildings including the cathedral the highight for me was the Museum of pre-columbian art which had a fabulous collection of pottery and sculpture.

Our few days here were great & Chris & MJ were great hosts even if we did try to give them liver damage! We are now due to head on a tour with Patchamama down to the Chilean lakes whihc should be fun.

Night all

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Easter Island

Iorana !

I have been so excited over the last few days as this was always the most anticipated part of our whole trip. I had dreamed of visiting this place since I was a little girl (a long time I know - sigh!), when I saw a documentary on tv. Although I had read quite a bit about the island its not the same as going there.
So we flew in from Tahiti and landed quite literally on the airstrip at the end of the high street!  The hostel manager Claudio was there to meet us with beautiful lei's of Frangipangi and other exotic perfumed flowers. He then proceded to give us a tour of the town (!) which lasted all of three minutes as there is really only 4 roads that make up the main part of Hanga Roa. 
Here is a bit of modern history to explain the island & then i will bore you with my exploits.
Easter Island was bistowed its European name in 1722, when Dutch Admiral Roddeveen landed here on Easter Sunday - he obviously had a geat imagination!
The island became Chilean territory in 1888, when they moved all the inhabitants into Hanga Roa & turned the rest into a sheep station! Finally in the 1960's the islanders regained access, but have mainly stayed close to town turning the rest of the island into a national park. The islanders speak Rapa Nui an eastern Polynesian dialect which is a mix of Maori and Spanish so an added layer of confusion for us although most people either understood French or English!

We spent our first day walking the coast, just above the town to see some of the moai. It was really hot & as the island has virtually no trees, but the coast line is stunning and there are wild horses grazing everywhere.  The next day we hired a guide and went in his 35 year old VW camper van to Rano Raraku aka 'the nursery'. This is the quarry where the maoi were hewn from the slopes of the extinct volcano. It was like a market where the tribes of the island came to puchase a head to recognise the newly deceased chief. There are literally  hundreds of  heads everywhere, some partially buried
As you can see from the pictures, the size of the Moai range from a few metres to over 21m tall, which gives rise to the big unanswered question. How the heck did they manage to move these huge carvings? Thats the bit that no one ever been able to fathom out as most of the islanders were killed by each other when the food & fuel (trees) ran out or perished from diseases introduced by the europeans! During thsi time all the Moai were toppled from their positions probably as an act of defiance. At one point there were only 22 indigenous people left on the island and most of their traditions and language lost. There have been loads of theories put forward, but not one single bit of evidence to back any one of them up. So its a complete mystery, maybe there is a job for Mystery Inc? 
Inside the crater there is a crowd of heads overlooking the reedy lake.
Neaby is the massive 15 Moai ahu (temple)  - Tongariki is built right on the edge of the crashing surf. In the 1960's this site was distroyed by a tsunami, but a japanese crane company rebuilt the whole site as bit of PR for its machinery in the 1990's and it is spectacular as you can see - bear in mind the tallest one is about 20 mts! Some of them look like they have top hats on, they are not top hats, but top knots and represent the henna hair do's that they wore at the top. Fancy ehh?
Our final stop of the day was at Anakena beach, where rather than the black volcanic rocks of the rest of the coastline, this is a beach of the softest white sand and the area holds two archaeological sites Ahu Nau Nau (on the left) & Ahu Ature Huki, which was the first Moai to be re-erected by Thor Heyerdahl & a few islanders. We had a little paddle in the sea, which was lovely and warm and eased our feet after all the walking. Great!
Today we climbed up Rano Kau another extinct volcano, which forms the southern end of the island and has the most spectacular crater lake about a mile wide.
The principal archaeological site on Rano Kau is the ruined ceremonial village of Orango which is located at the point where the sea cliff and inner crater wall converge ie just by my left ear on the photo. It must have been pretty cool place to live overlooking both the crater and the the turquoise blue sea. Unlike the groups on the rest of the island the villages here followed a birdman cult and their temples were adored with petroglyphs which are mainly of the birdman
   The whole island is magical, but very expensive due to the fact that everything is imported by plane! Tomorrow we have to leave here, but we are flying onto Santiago for a few days with Barmy Cowes & his wife. First stop I understand is a steak restaurant so Dean is happy!

Bye all


Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Ooooh La La La en Vacance

Dear all

 The last few days have been spent doing something that Dean is rather fond of 'sweet fanny adams'! LOL. No seriously the two reasons for our 9 days stopover in Tahiti was firstly to connect with Easter Island our next stop without having to fly over and back again vis Santiago & secondly to get some well needed R&R. I can hear you all laughing from here! but seriously, travelling everyday & living out of a suitcase can be pretty tiring too - no big fat sofa to lounge on every night you know! Well big raspberry blow to you anyway  - we did it! We found a lovely little homestay in the south of the island in a place called Papara.

 The owners Thierry & his wife made us feel so welcome despite the fact that my french was learnt over 25 years ago & Deans was as good as their English! - the Anglo/Franco dictionery was in full use all week! The garden was on a large plot & overflowed with fruit trees and palms. Their little dog Rocky was the boss in the garden making sure everyone was safe, even of he did chase the chickens when he thought we weren't looking! The massive bowl in the living room constantly overflowed with fresh avocados, bananas, coconuts, rambutans, bread fruit, papayas & logans, which we could help ourselves to each day! Delicious!

As they both worked we could spent most of the day on our own around the property reading and generally relaxing, but we also ventured out onto the very famous black beach across the road. The black sand makes it too hot to really go there in the day unless you are a local with asbestos feet. However towards the late aftrenoon it was lovely to wonder down, have a swim & watch the sunset - something we did most evenings. There is also an area where you can snorkle the small reef & at the other end of the beach is some great high rollers. A perfect beach really! 

Papara is also the main producer of fruit and veg for the island so we had access to probably the best salad ingredients that we had seen all tour. There was also a great fish shop just a hundred yards away, where the mahi steaks and the tuna were coming straight off the beach/boats. Even Dean enthused!
We did manage to peel our selves off the loungers twice, once to visit the capital, Papeete & the other we hired bikes from the hostel and cycling around the coast road to the Gauguin museum & a Botonical gardens. The only other time we altered our state of total relaxation, was when the earthquake in Japan occurred & we were rudely awaked at 4.30am by the texts from everyone a good 6 hours before the Tsunami even reached us! Although I giggle at that, it was serious and the first of the society islands in this group had a 5m high wave, luckily for us only the northern part of the island was evcuated and they only had a wall of water 70cm high. This is due to the fact that the area is full of hundreds of small volcanic islands which helped to break the wave amplitude down. This didn't happen elsewhere in the Pacific as the shallow waters near the mainland & the larger islands  means that the waves normally grow as they approach land. Still it added another layer of adventure to our tour & thanks to everyone for thinking of us..........

Our next stop is probably going to be the highlight of my whole trip as it was the first name I put on my wish list when we first started discussing the trip & has been facinating me since I was a little girl ..... Easter Island

Notre Dame - Papetee
Museum entrance

Sunday, 6 March 2011

End of another travel segment

I have to say that Dean has possibly got the worst hangover I have ever seen him have and we now have an eight hour flight to Tahiti. At least he doesn't have to do anything for the next 9 days. Same for me!!
On a less gleeful note I am sad to leave NZ & that is probably the first time I can truly say that on this trip. This country is amazing and so are the people. I can't wait until the next cricket tour here in two years & I am pretty sure many people will agree with me.

Two things I will not miss though is their internet & the sandflies !

Off to get that flight


Saturday, 5 March 2011

Derby day

 Dear all
Today we finally said goodbye to our second camper van, but this time we were just returning it back to Wicked, the hire company! It was still pouring with rain all the way back to Auckland and all the way back to Bikini's house ( he kindly picked us up.... ahhhhh sweet).

Our final day in NZ was to be spent doing something neither myself or Dean had even managed in England and that was to go to Derby Day!
Strangely, as we arrived the rain finally started to ease and we set about the task at hand getting drinks and bets on. It appears that the Derby is equally as popular in NZ as our Blighty equivalent although the early morning storms did keep some punters away. Matt & Lucy, who we stayed with when we arrived joined us and the party really started. Lucy & I managed to find some Champers & the boys drank beer and studied the form. Somehow I managed to pick two winners for Dean, but missed out on the big race as he laughed at me when I picked 'Jimmy Choo' & wouldn't place a bet ....... guess who won!
Oh well its all fun & the partying carried on till quite late until the boys went off the town & I collapsed on the sofa bed!
Tomorrow we fly to Tahiti, hopefully after the hangover has subsided!!!
Nite all

Friday, 4 March 2011

Hobbiton, shhhhhh

Dear all

I managed to start the day in a lovely hot mineral swimming pool as the campsite we stayed at last night had springs in the grounds Yippee. It was lovely to sit in the early morning sun with steam gently rising around you from your 39 degree pool.
Once I had dragged myself out of the pool we headed off to town where I was booked on the tour of Hobbiton - the village from LOTR no less. As you may remember I had tried to do this on the way down the north Island, but had not realised that the tour was a) private b) expensive c) long, So here I was on take two will my money, the morning & an empty SD card ready to get my $66 worth!!

Imagine my surprise when I got there to find that they were about to start filming The Hobbit there and we had to sign disclaimers agreeing not to post any photos or discuss anything we have seen on the 'location'. I guess this is until the film is released, then it doesn't matter. So sorry you will have to skype me if you really need to know or wait for the film LOL!
Suffice to say the place was amazing as the set was literally 3 days away from filming so everything was done down to the last detail including the tiny piles of logs outside the doors. What amazed me was that everything was completely real, even the fruit on all the trees. Well Ok the lichen on the fences was made up, but you can't grow that in situ in 3 months!
Dean had stayed behind in Matamata to have a wander & as I got back it started to rain & boy it didn't stop! It carried on whilst we had lunch and all the way to Hamilton, En route we drove through Tirau,which has a strange addiction to corrugated iron, even some of the buidings are fashioned with it & I mean fashioned!

We finally reached rainy Hamilton, where Dean stopped off and had a reminisce at the cricket ground and treated himself to a Knights one day shirt. It is the most garish pink you have ever seen! You certainly will see him coming down the street when he wears it oh well I suppose it’s better than him wearing a pink Middlesex shirt! LOL
It was still raining & raining & raining so we headed to a site and huddled and watched movies for the evening..... Guess what? It had to be LOTR - yep!
Tomorrow we held to our final port of call, Auckland to stay with another Barmy Army friend Michael aka Bikini!

Nite all

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Up the middle again

Dear all  
This morning we left our campsite in the very nice Bayview just outside town and headed  north towards Rotoroa. Our last visit had been shrouded by mist and drizzle so we hoped to have a short walk around today. After a short stop at Waipunga falls. Not particularly earth shatteringly beautiful, but a pretty place to stop for a break (as you can see above) we moved onto Taupo where we stopped to watch a few people bunjy jumo over the very picturesque Waikato river (nutters!). Back on the road we had a further stop at Butchers Pool near Reporoa,  a hot spring which was left to the locals by the land owner in perpetuity and they have made it a really nice pool area apart from the fact that it is full of sandflies!! We escaped and headed onto Kersene Creek nearer to Rotoroa, where the hot springs have literally created a hot creek where you can bathe in different pools - Truely magical I could have stayed in there all night. Sadly it was not to be as we had a few miles to travel yet. We finally got to Kuirau Park, where you can wander freely around the park with its steaming pools of water & bubbling mud. A quick dash up to the infamous Matamata, where we will visit Hobbiton in the morning. 

Nite all xx

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside.................

Dear all

Today we spent the day looking around Napier. Unfortunately in 1931, this town was raised to the ground, by a devastating earthquake. Luckily for Napier now is that the cheap method of building at the time was concrete, and the style Art Deco. So most of the streets are now mostly full of beautiful Art Deco buildings, which is a huge draw for tourists and gives it a very affluent, seaside feel.  Its a ovely place to wonder around unless you pick the day the cruise ship is in ! We also managed to pick up a parking ticket for parking the wrong way round on a street. Apparently in NZ you have to all park in one direction on a street, how odd! Anyway Dean sent me into the council offices and they let me off on production of our passport as we were tourists who didn't know better. Sometimes ignorance does pay off!
Nite all

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Pick punch ................

Dear all

OMG I can't believe that its the 1st of March already. I would love to say spring is here, but we are starting into autumn here - well its not as hot as it was would be a better translation. It also means we have been away for nearly 6 months and are certainly past the halfway mark which is sad. This is a very short post today as we have spent most of the day driving in the pouring rain up to Napier the route was still pretty, but lacks photo opps when its a bit grey and dreary. I will leave you with this sign that tickled me today and will try and do better tomorrow.
Nite all