A Travellerspoint blog


A day at sea - kind of like a booze cruise but way classier !!

semi-overcast 28 °C
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Monday 15th December

We had a very cool day on a boat today, just what I was needing as I was a little hungover - sank far too much Gin late on last night.

Anyway, we set off around 11am on board a little schooner called Banzay NY - and although there were other tourists on the boat we werent really that aware of them. Infact we had the whole top deck to ourselves (most of the other tourists - including a hefty French contingent, stayed down below as it was a little overcast to begin with).

The day quickly became a little bit blurred as the drinks started flowing before we even left Paraty harbour - and I got my first one free as I won some kind of raffle. Drank Caiprinha's all day (well with a few variations thrown in) -a Brazilian cocktail made with Cachaca, Lime, Sugar and crushed ice !! The liquor is kind of like a cross between rum and tequilla - and apparently this drink is commonly joked about as the drink that replaced the malaria shot in Brazil!!! Either way I loved it.

We made various stops at beaches during the day - and I amazed myself by swimming in the sea at the first stop ( a beach called Praia da Lula ; very unspoilt and beautiful). Duly captured on film by Kirsty - cant believe she took photos of me going in and coming out as well - I looked particularly bad, well seeing Im no longer doing the old Fat Club bit !!! That was the height of my exertions for the day - the rest of it was spent on deck soaking up the sun and the scenery, and watching Kirsty's exploits behind the bar. She was hilarious mixing cocktails. Then she decided to join our on board singer/guitar player with a little impromtu karaoke - although thankfully that was cut short by our landing back at Paraty. A great day - first time Ive really felt like I was on holiday and not rushing about seeing sights. Definitely recommend it to anyone who's in Paraty - the crew of the boat were great and the drinks strong and very free flowing. Wasnt touristy at all, well maybe we were a bit like lager louts in Ibiza but apart from that it was excellent. Need to vet the photos before I decide if anyones getting to see them though.

Managed to find a bit of time to wander round the shops on Paraty - a good selection of shops that are just a bit out of the ordinary yet still catering for the tourist visitor. Bought some lovely painted bottles - complete with Cachaca, although they'll be coming back empty ( need to watch the old weight limit LOL !!) and some classy T-shirts from the Paraty Post Office ( still havent figured out why the post office sells designer T-shirts though LOL !!!!).

Marcello excelled himself yet again by booking a terrific restaurant in the old town - Margarida cafe, which Chris and I had both noticed earlier in the day and thought looked quite impressive. It was seriously cool, with an amazing wine list and nice chilled out music from a local duo. Couldve stayed there all night, but we needed to have an early night as leaving for Sao Paulo and our flight to Iguazu early in the morning.

Im already starting to hate the early mornings - although thankfully not as bad as the ones in Peru.

Should really name check the hotel in Paraty too as it was pretty smart - basic but friendly and very well positioned - Pousada dos Contos, next to a nice looking Sushi restaurant which we never had time to check out. Couldnt complain about it at all.

Posted by Sparkster 13:56 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)


Hot , humid and very chilled !!!

rain 30 °C
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RIO DE JANEIRO/PARATY Sunday 14th December 2008

Up at the crack of dawn and crawled out of bed to go sightseeing with Joe and another guy in our group, Chris – a guy from New Zealand who’s been living in London for the past 4 years.

Chris was super organised and kind of acted like our own little tour guide, getting us safely to Sugar Loaf mountain where we boarded the cable car for the famous trip up in two separate cable cars ( Mr Uneducated Me had always thought it was just one cable car !!!) Quite impressive, and because it was so early we managed to miss the queues entirely. Views were quite breathtaking, although it was cloudy higher up nearer the Corcovado (where the statue of Christ the Redeemer is). That kind of clinched it for me, and decided that it wasn’t worth going all the way across town to queue to get up there when it was likely to be clouded over.

Instead Joe and I stuck with Chris and did a whistle stop tour of Rio in a few ; we visited the Catedral Metropolitana , a bizarre cone shaped cathedral with impressive stained glass interiors but shockingly bad 1970’s design and architecture, then headed to the Centro area which didn’t seem that exciting given it was Sunday. Police stopped us and advised Joe to hide his camera as we were in a dodgey part of town – umm, Joe didn’t take much notice but I was clinging onto all my possessions for dear life !! We then boarded a tram to an area known as Santa Theresa. It was nice but not really what I was expecting ( supposed to be where all the trendy arty types hang out in Rio – I think we maybe got off a few stops too early from the tram LOL !!). Wasn’t overly impressed with the Chacara do Ceu – a museum with lots of French art from the late 19th century (I didn’t recognise any of the names!!), and a few nice views from its balcony. Likewise the ruins of an old industrial mansion didn’t really do it for me either – Parque das Ruinas , could easily have bypassed them.

We then got a taxi out to the football stadium – the Maracana stadium, and I was all set to get Declan his Brazil top like he’d asked for but of course the whole place was overrun by queuing Madonna fans who were already getting excited for that nights show. I had originally thought she was just playing the Monday night, so hearing that she was playing tonight ( Sunday) as well got me thinking about staying an extra night. Touts were openly selling tickets and Joe said he’d been approached on the beach by a guy selling tickets for 350 Reals ( about £75). We couldn’t get inside the stadium but at least we saw the outside and the training pitch, and of course all of Madge’s entourage in terms of the merchandising etc.

Decided that as I’d only just arrived in Rio ( already later than everyone else) it wouldn’t be very fair to leave the group and stay over – we were leaving for Paraty at 3pm today. Besides, wasn’t sure I wanted to do that journey (6 hours) on a public bus myself. Mind you, seeing Madonna in a 200,000 seater stadium would’ve been something else. Could be one of my big regrets of the trip !!!!

We made it back to the hotel via the Metro – quite effortless really, although Chris made a good travel guide and I have to confess to having the first McDonalds of my whole trip when we got back to the hotel – I blame Chris, it was his idea. What is it with McD’s ?? When you’ve not had one for ages they taste extremely good.

Met the rest of the group at the hotel before we headed off on our trip to Paraty – a couple from Chicago and a girl from Scotland, Kirsty, who’s now living in France. All in all a good bunch of folk who I think are all going to be fine. Marcello , our guide, is a cool laid back kind of guy from Mendoza in Argentina – quite different to the other guides I’ve come across so it sort of feels like you’re spending time with a friend. He told us all he’s happiest when we’re happy ( bless – all I need is an endless supply of Cider/Morgans, which Im missing terribly, and I’ll be blissfully happy !! Im not hard to please LOL)

It rained solidly all the way to Paraty, a good 6 hour trip along the coast, with some spectacular rain forest type scenery, although it was obscured by low lying cloud for quite a bit of the way. Incredibly hot and humid here – a very different climate to what I’ve been used to. Could take some getting used to.

We arrived in Paraty around 9pm and more or less just ditched our bags in the room and headed off out for dinner and drinks. Marcello took us to Paraty 33 – a trendy little joint with a live Samba /Bossa Nova band, and after getting over the disappointment of no cider I picked a Uruguayan beer which came in a huge champagne bucket with ice. The rest of the guys were well jealous as mines was twice the size of theirs – and tasted far better than the local stuff.

After a good dinner we had a quick wander around then we split up – with Joe, Kirsty and me heading back to the pub where we polished off a few more rounds of drinks and listened to the singer. Of course as the beers flowed she got better and better, so Joe and I couldn’t resist buying her cd – which we got personally signed ( come on, anyone who knows me knows that I can’t resist that kind of patter LOL !!!).

We also got chatting to a very friendly waiter called Vagner who invited us to join him and his friends on Trinidade beach tomorrow ( 30km south of Paraty and very popular with the locals). Tempting though it was we had to decline as we had already agreed to spend a day cruising round the islands on a boat.

Really like Paraty – it has a nice touristy vibe without being overly commercial, lovely cobbled streets and loads of nice pousadas and bars. Apparently the whole of the old centre of the town has been declared a national historic monument, and all the old colonial buildings are very well preserved – with lots of ex pat Europeans running bars/pousadas and making sure it retains all of its original charm. Definitely very chilled and very friendly.

Posted by Sparkster 14:54 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)


Santiago to Rio

sunny 28 °C
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RIO DE JANIERO Saturday 13th December 2008

I didn’t arrive in Rio til way late – didn’t leave Santiago until just after 5.30pm, but enjoyed the lazy day at the airport hotel. Got up and repacked all my (ever increasing ) tourist tat into one bag and then repacked my other one. Left one of the bags at the hotel and will collect it again after I arrive back on 27th December.

Was really good to have semi-lazy day ; I didn’t get up til after 10am and left the hotel at 2.30pm to head to the airport. Flight left at 5.10pm and stopped at Sao Paulo on the way, where we had to sit on the runway for about an hour whilst the plane refuelled. The plane was full of adolescent boys heading to Sao Paulo for a football trip – was like a school bus at one stage, with lots of hilarity. Oh, and no films to watch at all – very poor !!! I got chatting to a nice Peruvian woman for the final bit of the trip, Giovanni, who was heading to Rio to see Madonna. We had a good conversation ( even if my Spanish was still particularly crap) and the time really flew by. Plane arrived an hour early to what I think was quite a decrepit old fashioned airport, and surprise surprise there wasn’t anyone to meet me as arranged. I hung about for about an hour or so , quite happy with myself because I’d managed to get Lancaster After Sun at the duty free. Giovanni was also staying on as her cousin wasn’t picking her up til 6am so we continued to chat.

Eventually I called it a day around 1.30am and got a taxi to the hotel ( cost me 90 Brazilian Real’s – about £20 !!)
The guy at the hotel informed me that I was sharing a room with someone called Joe, and got a bit irate when I suggested I just paid extra for a single room so as not to disturb him. He shouted at me in Spanish saying he had no spare rooms of any description and then proceeded to phone up poor Joe and announce that “Mr Howlett was here “ !!!

So there you go, how to win new friends and influence people – arrive at 1.45am and wake up your travel buddies.
Joe was cool about it though and had a quick chat with me before falling back to sleep .

We leave Rio at 3pm tomorrow so not really much time to see the sights, but Joe invited me to head out with him and another guy to do a quick whistle stop tour of Sugar Loaf and the surrounding bits and pieces.

Quite strange sharing a room after having managed for so long without having to, still sure it will be okay !!!

Posted by Sparkster 05:56 Archived in Brazil Comments (1)


Living it up in the middle of the pacific - another amazing place.

sunny 28 °C
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Tuesday 9th December to Friday 12th December

This was always going to be way up there on my Highlights list for this trip - as Ive desperately wanted to go here for a long time. Have to say I wasnt disappointed.

Flew out from Santiago ( travelled fairly light as well - left the offending overweight bag at the hotel in Santiago and just took enough for 4 days ; see I am becoming a seasoned traveller at last LOL !!).

At the airport I got offered the chance of an upgrade to Business class for US$300 ( yeah Valerie, remember that discussion we had about waiting for the Airline to offer you upgrades as oppose to requesting them ??? Well, this is the closest Ive gotten LOL)- I was so tempted, but I decided not to bother. Best flight so far - and the first one that had a personalised TV screen infront of my chair. I managed to watch "The Rocker" and "John Q", both were really good and we had excellent food too - the 6 hour flight just flew by, even with an annoying couple snogging next to me and the now customary obnoxious spanish tourists behind me who wouldnt sit down when they were told.

Arrived at Rapa Nui Matevari airport - the only plane in the whole airport I should add ( !!!), and after getting my luggage I found the representative for the Explora hotel who prompty planted a stupid flower Lia thingy around my neck. I was told to head out to the van, where I stood like a numpty for about 10 minutes waiting for everyone else to come through.

Turns out the other 5 people on my mini van/bus were all from the USA - Id actually noticed some of them during the flight, and they were all travelling together. The hotel sort of grouped me with them and to be fair they seemed happy to adopt me so I ended up doing most of my excursions and trips with them.

The Explora hotel was as impressive as the Awasi, but in a different way - they went for a more minimalsist look in the rooms, very 'natural' looking. And we had different guides each day depending on what other guests were doing etc. Not quite as personal a hotel as the Awasi, but still very very nice.

After a fancy lunch ( all very healthy food here - and relatively small portions, but lots of courses !!) we went out on a hike to the Quarry, where all the Moai were carved. Weather was a bit overcast but very warm - and even when it started to rain ( heavily !!) none of us seemed that bothered about getting wet.

Seeing the Moai for the first time was quite amazing - infact even although I saw loads of them over the four days I never lost the excitement. Its amazing that they were carved in stone and moved all over the island, probably with nothing more than logs to assist the islanders in doing so.

Because a lot of the Moa were toppled/destroyed during the 'civil 'war there hunderds of years ago, a lot of them have been restored or repaired but this doesnt detract from any of the sights. I am still at a loss to describe them and think everyone should try and see them at some stage - there's something quite mystical about them, even more so because we dont really know enough about the culture they came from. Although there are conflicting theories most people believe that the island was colonized by Polynesia around AD800 and the stone statues started soon after this. The islanders possibly lived in complete isolation and as a result became obsessed with building these massive stone Moai as a means of showing their strength/power. Their eco-system collapsed due to heavy cropping and de-forrestation, which resulted in two camps of islanders turning on each other, and nearly all of the Moa were toppled .

The Moai are everywhere in Rapa Nui, but we did do more than just visit them during my stay. The Americans were quite into their hiking and walking and so we did a fair bit of heavy duty walking, inlcuding an exploration of variuous caves that made my visit to Potosi seem like a walk in the park. The weather was mixed but the wind /breeze was constantly warm, and the people exceptionally friendly.

Highlights would include the Ahu Tongariki ( the restored 15 Moai statues that everyone sees in all the photos), the Ranu Raraku volcano, all the caves I perilously crawled through, the remains of Orango village ( and the story of the birdman cult that lived there), the smaller 7 Moai at Ahu Akivi and the ancient volcano of Poike ( which I hiked up on my own with two guides - most impressed about that one !!!).

The beaches at Ovahe and Anakena were nice but nothing spectactular, and the number of dead horses we saw also left a bit of a bad taste in your mouth ( the island has less than 5000 inhabitants but over 6000 horses, most of which are wild and viewed as vermin by the locals - we saw one horse tryting to kill itself in the sea, quite a horrible sight actually, and countless others in various states of decomposition. Carrie, one of the Americans wanted to rename the island Island of Dead Horses. She had a point.

I guess I'll remember the Moai more than anything else, and all the people I met. The Americans were very very nice to me, enjoyed meeting them all - especially Holly and her 'Orbit' advert ( one of the best English accents Ive ever heard !!). Also met two lively New Zealanders who came to meet the Americans for dinner - just loved them, and they've invited me and Valerie up to stay with them in Bay of Islands. Think they actually want us to spend New Year with them - Robyn said theres no point to being in Auckland as everyone will be away for the holidays !!!! Have to say, I think she would really know how to party - definitely clicked with them !!! I also did a trip with 3 American pilots who were on business on the island, flying their boss around in a Jet Stream private plane - they were nice guys too, strangely enough one of them lived in Peterhead years ago when he used to fly helicopters. Think his job now is a hell of a lot better - couldnt believe they were being paid to hang about waiting for their boss to decide it was time to move on. Oh, and i did try and figure out who their boss was but they were far too discreet for my liking - wouldnt say a word about him. Im just going to say it was someone famous even if it wasnt.

Think I did a lot of walking/hiking too which Im proud of - and as I ate fairly healthily I left the island feeling very good about myself.

Oh, almost forgot to mention the show we show at MareoTattoo - lots of wild Rapa Nui dancing with scantily clad men and woman recreating traditional dances. Some of it was a little full on actually but very very entertaining. And everywhere we went we heard the latest CD by a local band called Tonga tapi - of course Mr Howlett had to purchase it LOL. Can feel a Rapa Nui party coming on when I return.

Also met a really interesting man in the swanky swimming pool called Jim, from Michigan - we spoke about volunteering in Peru ( which he's done before) and Bolivia and he definitely gave me food for thought, whilst I got my back sunburnt in the Jacuzzi. Swear its easy to forget how strong the sun is here - I was in agony the next day.

Visited the local prison on the way to the airport and bought some carvings done by the prisoners ( I was told it was the best place to get a bargain !!). Quite a surreal place I must say - and its certainly going to be a talking point when I get home and say my purchases have been made by convicts.

The hotel gave me a traditional shell necklace when I left - nice but not as classy as the leather luggae tag from the Awasi. Visted the museum on my last morning, and enjoyed the company of Nico ( Nicolas number 2 - we had the original Nicolas guide for our cave journey !!!) before a very pleasant flight back to Chile. Managed to watch "The Departed" which I thought was amazing ( why have I never watched that before ?? Sure I remember someone telling me that it was a brilliant film - have to agree).

So, I left really pleased that I'd finally seen Easter Island and quite refreshed after my week of luxury in both San Pedro and the Rapa Nui Explora - back to Santiago for the night on 12th before flying to Rio to joing my last tour on Saturday.

Cant believe how quickly time is flying by !!!

Posted by Sparkster 18:46 Archived in Chile Comments (0)


My little bit of luxury in the desert - and worth every penny !!!

sunny 28 °C
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Umm,where do I start ???

I just loved being here - was amazing and everyone was so friendly. Cant complain about anything, although it might have been nice to have had someone with me to truly appreciate the surroundings with. An extra day night have been good too as I didnt really spend anytime at the hotel other than to eat or sleep, and it deserved to ahve time spent at it.

The Awasi works on the premise of having individual drivers and guides for each of its 8 rooms, so there was a very personalised touch, and Rodrigo the manager was superb at his job ( and his English) - made each and everyone of us feel like we were his own personal friends staying with him. I was in awe at how easy he made it look !!!

Amazing food, drink, comfort and a lovely chilled out pace - just what I was needing. I thoroughly recommend it !! Also met Scottish people for the first time so far ; even although both of them now lived down south with their respective partners. Have to give a special mention to Doc Fraser ( Stuart) and his lovely wife Jill who I really enjoyed chatting to. He even emails his patients whilst he's away - just a really nice genuine man ( and originally from Buckie of all places !!) Gave me his email address but Ive temporarily lost it somewhere in amongst all my tourist tat that Ive accumulated along the way - hopefully I'll find it before the end of the trip.

My guide during my stay at Awasi was an older man called Salvador, originally Portuguese but he's lived in San Pedro for over 9 years. Very knowledgeable and after our first sit down meeting we drew up a plan to do as much as possible during my 3 days.

Saturday 6th Dec

Salvador took me out in the morning to the Salar de Atacama ( Chilean salt lakes - very very different to Bolivia, because of the climate and the height - still high here but not as bad as Bolivia thankfully, and I feel very acclimatised already !!). We visited the Laguna Chaxa and saw hundreds of Flamingo's. Im a bit of a Flamingo expert now - there are 3 different types that live/breed in the Atacama Altiplano including the famous James Flamingo and the rarer Chilean Flamingo. Actually I cant really tell the difference LOL !!! Quite amazing to see them so close up, although my photography leaves a lot to be desired so there probably wont be that many decent photos.

Stopped off at a little village called Toconao on the way back to the hotel - very small ( aprox 500 inhabitants), and very Spanish looking. Had a very pretty and simple church in the town square - quite refreshing after all the full on cathedrals in Peru and Bolivia. I was really taken with it. Have to say I think even the Australians would like it

After a few hours at the hotel I was off again to the Valle De Luna ( Moon Valley) -i ts a nature reserve famous for resembling the surface of the moon ( caused by the salt formations and other natural enviromental factors.) Some of the scenery was quite breath taking, and as Ive said very different to the glaring white of Bolivia's salt plains. We saw a few mines as well - though the salt isnt harvested here as its too expensive a process. Oh and rather refreshingly, not a single salt carved Llama or trinket box in sight.

After a trip through Death Valley ( so windy I almost got blown off the edge !!) and a quick look at Inca ruins at Pukara de Quitor ( these Inca's get everywhere LOL !!) we moved to a spot where we could see the sunset over both the mountian ranges in the area. Salvador pointed out to me that whilst most people look at the sunset from Moon Valley there was far more to see from a different vantage point looking at the colours change on the mountains as the sun went down. I also had the luxury of fruit, cheese and lovely Chilean wine to help me appreciate it even more.

Yet another catastrophe with the camera battery dying on me at just the wrong time - am going to have to invest in a spare me thinks !!! I missed some stunning colour changes in the sky though - kicking myself !!

Truly exceptional - then I was back at Awasi for dinner in front of a burning coal fire. Think this is going to take some beating on this trip !!

Sunday 7th Dec

We did a full day trip to the Salar Tara today - and as well as Salvador I had my own driver ,Edwin, with us ; lots of Flamingo's and Llama's enroute, and even a fox or two. Quite an amazing picnic lunch, even if it was incredibly windy when we got to the Pakana Monks where we stopped. Earlier we had got caught right in the midle of a salt/dust storm on the lake - sort of like a mini tornado/twister. Brilliant to see it going right past the jeep. We drove through some incredible scenery on the way, passing between mountain ranges that borders Bolivia and Argentina and went higher than we'd been in either Peru or Bolivia - thankfuly I had no adverse affects ( must be getting used to the altitude at last !!). One of the volcano's in the area is still active - you see wisps of steam and smoke coming out of its crater when you're taking photos ( I thought it was clouds til Salvador pointed them out to me !!).

Monday 8th Dec

My last day - got up at the crack of dawn today ( 4.30am) to go and visit the Tatio Geysers - a two hour drive away from San Pedro. Not sure what I was expecting, and although they were impressive they were a little less 'gushy' than I'd thought they would be. Salvador did say that as it was a cloudy morning it was warmner than usual and this would affect the geysers. It was still cold though - wish Id wrapped up more. We hung about til sunrise, then had breakfast watching the remains of the geysers blow off as the atmosphere warmed up around them. Quite sobering to hear that various tourists have been killed over the years by getting too close to the geysers - they can gush unexpectedly, or the thin mud crust around them can crumble. I was a bit freaked by that one !!!

We stopped off at the hot springs at Puritama on the way back, and athough they were beautiful I thought they were a little crowded and this was probably something you did with someone rather than on your own ( I mean, I didnt really fancy sitting in a thermal spring with a bunch of old French people for company - I stood and drank wine /ate cheese and salmon instead. They do look after you at The Awasi - best picnics Ive ever had LOL !!!!).

Finally stopped off in San Pedro on the way home and saw Pissaro's house ( the great Spanish Conquistador)- still standing after almost 500 years, Im so going to read more about him when I get back cause he gets mentioned nearly everywhere Ive been. Salvador mentioned a book written by an english writer ( Im putting this in as a mental note for me to remember to try and find it when I get back ; think the author was Stirling ??)

I was back at the hotel in time for lunch and had a spare hour or so to chill before leaving for the airport with another guide, think she was called Elise. Interesting fact here - she was involved in location spotting for the Bond film, and the director and leading actress Olga Kurylenko stayed at her house for dinner one evening. She explained where the film had been shot - not Calama as I'd been told, and indeed very few scenes were shot around the Atacama. Very interesting chat though - I'll tell everyone the gossip she told me when I get back, dont want to be arrested for slander on the internet whilst Im away LOL !!!

Fairly effortless check in and flight to Santiago, no entertainment on it though. And I got well and truly conned at the airport by a guy dressed to look like an Airport security guy. Ofererd to help me with my FREE transfer to the hotel at the Airport and I ended up paying 15000 Pesos for a taxi that he got me ....beware, even offical looking guys with walkie talkies are con men in Santiago !!!! Was also very very irritated by the rude older spanish people on my flight - they wouldnt sit down, all stood chatting noisily and congregating in the aisles as if they were on a bus or train or something. Really pathetic - totally ignored the cabin crew.

Stayed at Diego de Almagro hotel in Santiago, next to the airport - all ready for my trip to Easter island tomorrow.

Posted by Sparkster 08:58 Archived in Chile Comments (3)

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