Wednesday, 28 July 2010

The final chapter!

Hey everybody, well this is it, the final post from an unbelievable, and potentially life changing 3 months in South America! I'm not going to talk about the journey home, other than to say that Delta Airlines again showed why they are the cheapest option, poor planes, poor food, & cancelled flights! The American airports of Atlanta and especially New York were also quite shambolic too!

The final few days were spent in my favourite large South American city visited on this trip - Santiago. After some much needed day time sleep on the Saturday, my hosts took me out for some food and drink at a real local bar... one of those places that you wouldn't know existed without someone local taking you there. You had to pass through a small entrance to what looked like a normal house, after ringing the door bell. Once inside we were greeted with a small cafe atmosphere, which included beers being drunk and people dancing away on the small central dance floor. Salsa music, Chilean pop music and other Latin music beats played throughout the night along with a couple of local singers keep the crowd entertained! I was joined by my fellow OT's Gaby and Diego, and Gaby-s room mate Panchi and her boyfriend too! Here's the evidence of a good night!

My last full day in Santiago was filled with bits of emailing and some work related stuff, but I really wanted to go and have final look around, as now the backdrop to the city included some stunning snow filled mountains! Take a look at these pictures!

I had hoped to catch up with a few students that I had met previously, though this proved to be a little more difficult as it was now University vacation, and many students were elsewhere. I did mange to catch up my friend (and OT student) Tamy,
So how to possibly conclude this blog and all the experiences I have been lucky enough to enjoy over the past 3 months? I think a 'Top 3' list will do the job! So here goes;
TOP 3 'Tourist Spots'; (Cities)
1) Santiago (Chile)
2) Bogota (Colombia)
3) Cordoba (Argentina) (Buenos Aires a very close 4th!)

Top 3 'Natural Wonders'; ( I need 4 here!)
1) Journey from San Pedro de Atacama (Chile) - Uyuni (Bolivia), a 3 day 4x4 trip!
2) Machu Picchu (Inca Empire, Peru)
3) San Pedro de Atacama (Chilean Desert)
4)Iguazu Falls (Brazil, Argentina & Paraguay)

Top 3 'Random memories';
1) Conception (Chile)- finding almost all the hostels destroyed by the earthquake, and the only other hostel full, only to be offered the spare room at the apartment of the hostel owner's friend, complete with granny too!
2) Cordoba (Argentina) - finding all hostels full, only to be offered the staff kitchen floor, complete with mattress and blankets (for free!)
3) San Gil (Colombia) - finding myself floating down a river in Colombia, having jumped in after a spot of river rafting!

There is no way I can possibly make a 'Top 3' list for the acts of kindness I have been fortunate to be on the receiving end of, as the list would be too long, but I must say some very special thank yous to a few...
1) Pepe, Vanesa & Pamela (Chile) - thank you for your kindness & help at the conference which led to me meeting so many of your wonderful friends.
2) Andrea & the Sato Family (Conception, Chile)- thank you so much for opening your home to me and making my experience with you so much fun!
3) Lizardo (Peru) - thanks for saving me from the dirty 'semi-naked' old lady and for entertaining me in Lima!
4) Vibi, Santi & Alejandra (Colombia) what can I say? Sharing your work, home and life, and making me feel very special on my birthday, and for introducing to me a country I would never have seen otherwise, a huge thanks!
5) Fiorella, Mili, Mila, Leonela, Diego, Valerita & Meme (Santa Fe, Cordoba, Buenos Aires, Argentina) - you all helped to make my time filled with great work opportunities and more importantly lots of fun!
6) Gaby, Panchi, Diego & Tamy (Santiago, Chile) All of you showed lots of willingness to help me with anything I asked, and ensured I had a great send off!

There are so many more people I'd love to say thanks too, but it would take so long! Ok, just a few more! Conseulo, Maka, Coni & Andrea thanks for keeping my social life interesting and busy!

So whilst the main aim of the trip had been to further professional links and experience, by presenting at the World Occupational Therapy Conference in Santiago Chile, what I eventually experienced was a continent full of friendly, helpful, kind and motivated people! People in Chile, Colombia and Argentina showed me how by being more trusting and open minded, that life can be filled with less anxiety, stress and mistrust, and instead be filled with laughter, music, dancing, food and definitely more general happiness! Especially more food, music and dancing!!!

Thank you to everybody, and I just hope I get a chance to return some of the amazing hospitality when any of you come to my home! (Where ever that may be!)
so for the last time,
Regards from South America!

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Week 12 - Buenos Aires Part II (Exploring the culture).

Hello one and all,
After feeling a touch guilty about giving Buenos Aires a bad report last time around, I have tried to be a little more objective in my views on the second half of the week in BA. This has been refreshingly easier, as my remaining time has been filled with visiting famous cafes, tango lessons and shows, a visit to the town of Tigre, seeing the famous 'Teatre Colon' and a few delicious stakes thrown in too!

So here we go!
After a pretty frustrating start to the week, by Wednesday I had decided I need to make more of an effort to go and find some interesting things to do. I had already enjoyed the previous night's walk through the busy streets, which come to life in the evenings with night market sellers, and some street tango! (see below)

I thought it was time to be mix the real experience with a bit of tourist activity and so I booked to go and see a tango show, and have a lesson too. A bus picked me up from my hostel, and on entering the bus, I was met by a sea of foreign faces (mainly Brazilians - and all female!). What a good idea this was, I thought! The bus picked up a few more passengers, including another 2 guys, ( I was relieved at that!), and off we went to the show. We were initially shown to various different tables, depending on the groups we had booked with. Some people had dinner, others didn't! I had booked alone and was not paying for dinner, so perhaps unsurprisingly, was seated by myself, next to the stage... I have to admit I was not feeling so comfortable about that. Then the rather large empty table next to me filled with 7 Brazilian ladies from my bus! One look at me and they obviously took pity, as all the Brazilian people I have met have been so extra friendly!A minute later and I was sitting around the table with these 7 ladies, sipping red wine, and ready to enjoy the night!
We were all escorted to the tango lesson, and with a ratio of 3 men to about 15 girls, us guys got a lot of practice doing the basic steps!
The clas was fun, as was the instructor, (well worth a go if you come to Buenos Aires - Home of the tango). We then sat back over dinner and enjoyed the show! I was twice pulled up to dance with the cast as part of the show, so here's some pictures from the night!

After the show the Brazilian ladies invited me back to there hostel where a weekly disco/party was happening and so we danced the night away, and I was even complimented on my salsa skills, which coming from Brazilians was a real compliment!

The following day I hit the well known cafe circuit, and joined a regular que to have afternoon tea at Cafe Tortini, famous for political scandals and it's well known and well preserved decor!. The wooden panelling and the waiter's smart dress added to the popular atmosphere, and the cup of tea and cheesecake I had wasn't bad either! href="">

In the evening I continued my quest for culture and went to an orchestral concert at the very recently reopened, and famous 'Teatre Colon'. It is a quite an amazing building, and my interest was to see this famous place, more so than listening to the concert inside it. There were only standing tickets available.. at price of 25 pesos (less than 5 pounds!). Enjoy the views!
There was no let up in my schedule for the final day in Buenos Aires, as I headed out of town to the popular weekend town of 'Tigre'. One hour on the slow train from the city centre for just 7 pesos.. (just over a pound!) and I found myself in a different world.
I was just in time for a boat tour, and found myself enjoying a tour of the area on the water ways. The scenery was unusual, with houses perched on the river banks, a theme park, and boat yards all in clear view! A quite unexpected and relaxing journey only an hour from the centre of Buenos Aires!

So as the day drew to a close and with the sun setting as I returned to town....

I packed my bags in preparation for a return to Santiago and a long journey home. I was to spend the last evening with my friend Valerita and here friends, as we met at Coty's apartment, drank beer, ate pizza and talked the night away.
I looked at my watch to see the time read 0330, and quickly had to leave to return to the hostel, pick my things up and take a taxi to the airport for my early morning flight!

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Week 12 (The final chapters - Buenos Aires!) The dangers of travel!

So hello one and all, welcome to a mid week report from Buenos Aires, the so called 'coolest city' on the continent (according to the lonely planet!) Not for the first time in my life I find myself disagreeing strongly with this book. I must admit that the guidebook has been invaluable in some places I have visited, but in this case, because my time here in Buenos Aires has not been such a happy one, in general! There is certainly plenty to do around the city, tango shows (to which I am going to tonight), cafes, museums, churches, walking tours, bike tours, football (out of season now), and a busy night life, after 12am... but there is something in the initial dealings with the Buenos Aires public that I find personally quite frustrating. I see so many people walking around without emotion, or the emotion I seem to see is a frown, rather than a smile. Nobody (with the execption of my friend Valerita, and an fellow OT Carlos Luna and his colleagues on a professional visit yesterday), has shown any kind of willingness to be overly polite. Waiters can take forever to serve you, and I have been confronted with a darker side of they city (not particularly specific to BA), that has made me feel the need to mistrust others, rather than trust them... let me explain. On night one of my stay, I decided to go out on a 'pub crawl' something that is often organised through hostels and can help you meet other travelers very quickly and over a few beers! Not my preferred way to meet and greet, but in this age of lap tops and mobile phones,- I feel even traveling and backpacking has been affected by these social diseases, it makes meeting people that little more difficult! I must say that I had a good night and met some very nice people, (see pictures below).. including a nice brother and sister from Australia, a friendly Brazilian guy and a nice girl from Slovenia, Despite a good night socially, my new scarf,(the scarf I had just bought that day) was stolen from inside my coat! Luckily I had everything else in my pockets! Also, one of the bars gave me a fake 50 peso (10 pounds) note, which I clearly didn't realise until the next day when I went to buy another scarf! I was also warned that in my hostel it was advisable to buy padlocks for the lockers as other backpackers had told me how small things went missing. I really dislike having to mistrust others, and especially when traveling I have enjoyed the certain openness and trust that you really need to demonstrate and receive from others, to make your time en more enjoyable. Then came a real horror story from a room mate of mine in the hostel. This German guy, who has been traveling around the world, and is not naive about such things was out in Buenos Aires (BA) sight seeing. Whilst at one of the many monuments around the city a guy got chatting to him, and claimed to be another back packer (from Spain- remember everyone speaks Spanish here). Together they then went to see a couple more sights, and decided to go for a bit to eat (something I have done countless times all over the world). The German guy, who can certainly handle himself, remembers having some food and a glass of wine. The next things he remembers is waking up on the street about 4 hours later, with no wallet, money or cash cards! Luckily he still had his passport.. the so called other 'backpacker' had drugged his drink! When I was recounting this tale to another guy at the hostel, he said "oh yes I heard that happened to someone else too". This kind of story can be frightening, but acts as a good reminder to be careful, but this makes BA the first city that I have felt the need to think in such a cynical way, that perhaps every time I receive money I should check for fake bills, or always wonder if strangers who are being 'friendly' have another agenda? It's not the way I like to travel, think or act. A further little example was how on my first day a guy approached me claiming to be collecting for charity, and when I refused to give something, the guy just stopped talking and walked off in a impolite manner, it's a small thing but something that adds to the general impression of a place!

On a more cheery note, I have enjoyed many elements of the city and some personal and professional meetings here. There are many nice areas to walk around, including one of the older parts of they city called San Telmo, Where they sell such unique touristy things(sarcasm), such as... I also enjoyed a really nice evening in a little (but famous cafe) around the corner from my hostel, watching a tango show, with a girl I met on the pub crawl...

As with many of the visits to cities in Chile, Colombia and Argentina, my itinerary has included meeting up with OT's and OT students that I had met in the conference in Santiago! Here in Buenos Aires was no exception! After a couple of rather shitty days due to the scarf theft, dodgy currency and really bad wet and cold weather, I was able to meet up with Valerita, a final year OT student here in BA. We met in the evening for dinner of which her and her friends refused my offer to pay my share, and were able to have a lovely evening in a nice little restaurant, enjoying scrumptious food! See below... It was nice to be finally enjoying the company of nice friendly Argentinean folks in BA. A little more of my faith in the Buenos Aires people was further restored with a visit to the Nosotros Foundation. An Occupational Therapist by the name of Carlos Luna had contacted me via facebook, and invited to me visit his work with this foundation. The foundation in housed in the San Isidro district of Buenos Aires, which required me to take a little train ride to this district 30 minutes from Buenos Aires centre. There was plenty of entertainment on the train, with a group of musicians moving from carriage to carriage trying to earn a living, and people trying to sell chocolate or magnifying glasses... (I´m not sure about that one!) The foundation works with adults with 'intellectual disabilities' and offers activities and training programmes for work placements, along with promoting independence and also offers family support. The dedicated and welcoming staff were happy to let me visit many of the activities which included computer workshops, art and ceramics, a small bakery, mushroom growing and gardening, to name just a few. The history of the foundation is also a very heart warming and touching story, and the website is available in both English and Spanish, so please have a look at the web page or blog! (NOSOTROS FOUNDATION - Here are a few pictures from the visit. So a resounding thanks to Carlos, and the staff and clients who made may day a very interesting, educational and most importantly, friendly visit!

So as you can probably tell, the first half of my week here in Buenos Aires has been a contrasting one! Perhaps my expectations of this city were too high, or by bad luck and chance the beginning of my time has been tinged with some negative experiences, but I want to give the city a chance to show me it's got more to it's character than I have experienced so far!
Regards from Argentina!

Friday, 16 July 2010

Week 11 - Back on the road again, an 8 year reunion & the wonderous waterfalls!

Where to possibly begin??? Perhaps to talk about the lovely city of Cordoba, where I was reunited with a friend I met 8 years ago? Or the 22hr bus ride from Cordoba to Iguazu... or perhaps one to try and describe one of the natural wonders of the world at Iguazu waterfalls? The week certainly has been eventful! I guess I'll go for the Cordoba experience first, which was another 'surprise' stop on my itinerary. Cordoba is questionably the 2nd/3rd biggest town in Argentina and my reason for having a stop there was to visit someone who I met 8 years ago when I was traveling in Australia. The person in question was a young lady by the name of Meme, with whom I had exchanged a few emails over the past 8 years. I randomly emailed her just 3 weeks ago to ask if she was still around in Argentina, and hence a trip to Cordoba was planned. It was a 6 hour bus trip from Parana, and I arrived around 7pm, and headed for the well recommended hostel 'Cordoba Backpackers'. Unfortunately for me, I arrived during a long holiday weekend, and there was 'no room at the inn' (it was full)! When I asked if the staff could point me in the direction of another hostel they looked doubtful and explained that I could go looking for another hostel, but by this time of night they would most likely all be full. The staff then asked me if I had a sleeping bag, which I did not! Suddenly one of the staff said, "hey look, if you don't mind we can get you a mattress and a blanket and you can sleep on the floor of the staff kitchen..." I looked at the guy to see if he was serious, and on realising he was, I quickly took up the offer! Looking on the bright side, I not only had a private room, but I was sleeping next to the fridge!! And best of all they didn't charge me for that night's stay! Now that is what I call service! And here is the proof! I went for a little wander around Cordoba that very night, just to get my bearings, and I found a really lively atmosphere on the streets, and some beautiful sights around the town! I loved just wandering the streets as the place felt busy and relaxed at the same time... I also got to see some fairly entertaining night markets where clearly all kinds of counter fit goods were being sold, not in a dodgy way! But there were some very questionable items being sold.. have a look for yourself! Now, despite some initial concern at the items on sale, my walk took me around the city's main attractions, with stunning architecture... Churches, theatres and other buildings, which caught your attention at every turn! Have a little look... It's quite nice by day too! After spending a very chilled out day Sunday, (having moved out of the kitchen into a 3 person dorm with bed! - For just 34 pesos, 6 pounds). I watched the world cup final at the hostel with a fairly mixed crowd, English, Australian, Argentineans and a few others, whilst supping some very cheap beers! A perfect day! I was now feeling quite rested and was keen to meet up with Meme and see what she had been doing for the past 8 years! That opportunity arrived Monday evening as Meme came to pick me up from the hostel, and took me to her apartment to meet her housemate and sister. We ventured out for dinner (the usual time of after 10pm) and found a nice little authentic Argentinean place that served a very good steak... my first real steak here! Hmmmm it was good, and Meme very kindly footed the bill (Thanks Meme)! Here's us at the restaurant... The following morning Meme again collected me from the hostel and took me to her apartment for breakfast (great for me as I had drastically overslept and only been woken up when two French girls tried coming into the room!). I had the chance to freshen up and have a bit more time with Meme, (who has done a fair bit of traveling herself!) before we headed off to the bus station 1 minute from Meme's flat! So thanks again Meme for your hospitality, sorry I couldn't stay longer and a lesson for everyone, take a person's email because you never know when you might just see them again! So now I was back on the road and for a whopping 22 hours, to North East Argentina and the famous Iguazu waterfalls... or the 'Cataratas' as they are known as here in Argentina. These amazing waterfalls form at the border of 3 countries; Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay! I had been told to try and get to see the Brazilian side for the views, and get up close to the falls on the Argentina side... I was not disappointed!

So after a 22hr bus journey, I arrived around 10am in Iguazu (Argentina), I could not check in for another 4 hours, so sneaking into the hostel bar's toilet, I had a quick wash, brushed my teeth and changed the clothes I could reach in my big bag in such a confined small space! The receptionist suggested I go to the Brazil side first today as I needed less time there, and so just an hour or so later I was on a bus to Brazil (for just 50 pesos - less than 10 pounds)and heading into Iguauzu national park!
The initial views of the waterfalls from the Brazil side were something like this...

And then they just got better and better... words can not really describe the sensation of being so close to such vast falls, other than to try and explain the deafening noise and giddiness you feel - pictures and a video or two will hopefully tell the rest of the story! (See below)

So after a day of such stunning scenery I headed off with a room mate from Denmark for a nice fish dinner, to prepare for the following day's trip to the Argentinean side of the falls. Whilst the views are not as spectacular in the panaramic sense of the word, the falls are equally impressive and much more accessible on this side! take a little look....

Iguazu is not all about the waterfalls, there is a rich diversity of animals, especially birds, and some funny looking things that look like a cross between a badger and a racoon! (And they aren't afraid to come say hello in their hunt for food!)

And on one final note, you can always find some interesting signs when you go to places like this, and there were two signs that really caught my eye! The first was the sign showing that anyone other than a Brazilian, Argentinean or Paraguay resident must pay lots more to see the falls...
... and secondly the following sign that had many a traveler baffled as to what exactly it was trying to say! If you have an idea please leave a comment!
So that's it for another week, and now as I am sat in Buenos Aires writing this post, I have just over one week remaining!
Regards from Argentina