Sunday, November 27, 2005

Best of South America

As the South American leg of our jouney is about to end I thought I would go into list mode...

1. Animal Park, Villa Tunauri, Bolivia The chance to work with pumas ocelots, spider monkeys was amazing. Although I complained bitterly a lot of the time it was truly one of the most challenging and rewarding things I have ever done
2. The Salar, Southern Bolivia This strange moon like environment is for me the best site in South America that we saw. 4 days in a jeep looking at places I havent seen anywhere else. Amazing 3.Machu Pichu, Peru Yes it´s as good as everyone says
4. Buenos Aires. A cross between New York, Paris and London and at a very affordable price. The only place to live it up on the continent
5. Easter Island the most remote island in the world and one of the most fascinating. Well worth the 6 hour flight from Chile
6. Galapagos islands sailing around from Island to island eating wonderful food and seeing wildlife up close and personal. Magical! 7. Cadmalca, Peru Building a stove for a Peruvian family was a great experience and got us to an area of Peru few tourists visit
8. Living with an Ecuadorian family Thanx to Yoly and Marco for accepting us into their lives and showing us the way Ecuadorians like to live, and teaching us a bit of Spanish along the way 9)Iguassu Falls Brazil truly spectacular sight and better than Victoria Falls in my opinion 10) La Paz A crazy Bolivian city at very high altitude and with dried llama foetus for sale, it´s unlike any other city I´ve ever been to

Top Ten South American strangest moments

1) Villa Tunauri Bolivia Walking a Puma 8 hours a day seven days a week for a month in Bolivia. If it wasn´t actually attacking me it was dragging me down muddy tracks in the rainforest. Here in iguassu the park ranger said we´d be lucky to see a Puma. I beg to differ.
2) Tupiza, Bolivia. Getting blockaded for 5 days in a small town in Southern Bolivia. Having to do all our shopping before the shops shut at 9am and then sneaking into restaurants at night to avoid the angry mob that roamed the town looking for blockade breakers.
3) Tierra Santa, Buenos Aires. A religious theme park smack bang on runway 5 of the international airport. What more can I say 4) Easter Island , Chile. Attacked by a territorial hawk whilst cycling on the Island. The bird came for me three times and the final assault felt like someone slamming a phone book on my head.
5) Cadmalca, Peru Judging the local beauty contest in front of hundreds of tribally garbed Peruvians 6) Cadmalca Peru teaching the local Primary schoolchildren English in very bad Spanish 7) Galapagos Islands, Ecuador Walking around on an Island where the possibility of stepping on an Albatross or 10 was very real indeed
8) Villa Tunauri, Bolivia A spider monkey stole the book I was reading, fled to the trees and then proceeded to eat it.
9) Otavalo Ecuador going to the local fiesta with our host family and finding ourselves in the centre of town getting chased by drunk men in silly hats and fired at with tear gas by riot police 10)Ollytaytambo, Peru. Grabbed by a drunken Grandmother and forced to dance for half an hour unable to leave a very bizarre drinking den

South America´s room 101

Room 101 was the room in George orwell´s 1984 that contained the worst thing in the world. Now after 7 months in South America we have made a list of the 10 things about South America that need to be thrown into Room 101.( In no particular order of course)
1) Plastic chairs. Whoever is making all the plastic chairs over here is definitely not sitting on them. Every restaurant from Quito to Rio is decked out in either red or white... If youre lucky you may get some beer advertising on one of them. Ambience is a dirty word here and why have something nice to sit on when you can fill an empty restaurant with 250 of these things.
2) Buenos Aires taxi drivers. The oxford dictionary definition of maniac driver has been updated to include the antics of these guys. We did 145 kilometres an hour on the freeway from the airport, most of it up the bum of the cars in front. Lanes are optional, pedestrians fare game and cursing par for the course
3)South American cuisine. Ever wondered why you havent seen any South American restaurants recently? Now unless you like fried chicken, served with bland salad and beans you aint gonna be satisfied. And guinea pig... 4) Bolivian Buses. Can somebody tell me why all the buses in Bolivia leave at 7.30 at night and arrive at their destination at 3.30 in the morning so you can spend the wee morning hours cold, hungry looking for a hotel that´s open in a dangerous part of town.
5)Altitude. with most of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Chile being above 3000 metres this meant that for most of our trip we have been cold, sleep deprived, with headache, nausea, tiredness, breathlessness and other obscure side effects
6) Poo paper in the wastepaper bin. We don´t know how lucky we are in western countries wiping your bum and casually dropping the paper in the toilet. Over here it all goes into a little bin in the corner. Often it´s overflowing and usually only emptied every few days which can leave for a very smelly en suite bathroom
7) Electric showers. Unless you like getting zapped before every wash these are definitely going into room 101. Usually only found in very cold climates, they come with only one tap and the more you turn it on the colder it gets... so if you want a semi warm shower expect a dribble. on the upside the electric zap will definitely get you going in the morning
8) 9pm bedtimes. With the exception of Argentina, it´s tucked in watching some crappy cable tv by 9 pm every night. In Ecuador Peru and Bolivia, it´s too cold out there, nothings open and all the nightlifes gone to Rio.
9)Rubbish. With the exception of Buenos Aires, disposing of rubbish means throwing it out the bus window. 10) 80`s music. Laura Brannigan, Dire straits and Phil collins well and truly live here in South America. Ask someone about English rock and they´ll reply with I love Elton John, ask about Australian music and it´s all about Air Supply. Not that there´s anything wrong with Air fact I have a new appreciation of their music.


If only Kevin Costner thought of coming here to Iguazu falls rather than building the most costly set in Hollywood history. It truly is one of the great sites of South America despite the fact it resembles one of those animated paintings you often see in Chinese restaurants. Iguazu falls borders Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay and is also the site I believe of the worlds largest dam(Itaipu). Apparently there were even bigger and more beautiful falls here before the Brazilians decided they needed cheap hydroelectricity. So what to say about billions of tonnes of water pouring out of every nook and cranny you can shake a camera at. For us the highlight was a boat trip into the falls themselves which resulted in us getting completely soaked and having extreme difficulty breathing whilst being underneath the aforementioned billions of gallons. Lots of woo hoos and yeeee haaas made for one of the most fun days to be had. The days comedy moment came after I purchased a packet of chips(crisps to you English geezers) but was unfortunately spotted by a coati (pronounced koarrrteee). Coatis for you non South American Mammal afficionados are an extremely annoying and quite dangerous racoon rat like animal that I loathe. They have an extremely large mouth and even larger teeth that are usually scrounging for food 24 hours a day. So, just after a very hungry Ed purchased his crisps he found himself being chased by not one but 4 of these little buggers. No amount of yelling, sidestepping, cursing or attempting to make myself look bigger did anything to deter the little buggers. So to the soundtrack of Kates hysterical laughter I succumbed and threw my packet of crisps to the devils. I hate them... But revenge was mine when later I found one of them robbing tourists of their sandwiches in the canteen and armed with my latest weapon ( a birkenstock) I chased the little bastard halfway down the falls. Brothers in arms unite..death to all Coatis. So here we are in Iguassu, Brazil and unfortunately our latin American world has caved in on it´s head. Suddenly we´re forced to say Obrigado instead of Gracias. Brazil is a whole different world. 160 million people... more than all the other South American countries put togethor. The country is bigger than Europe, there are more murders here than in South Africa, and it takes a long time to get anywhere. 85% of the worlds portugese speakers also live here... so there. It´s also expensive and especially so during Xmas and new year. In Rio they are asking 50 dollars US a night in an 8 bed dorm. So we have decided to say Vamos to Brazil ( or whatever the portugese equivalent is and hello Morocco and Thailand Via London. Yep tomorrow we hop on a bus to Sao Paolo( God help us) then fly to Marrakech for some mint tea and how much for the carpet. 10 days later we fly to London for 3 days for a bit of Christ it´s cold here followed by a flight to Thailand and show us where the cheap cabana on the beach with the hammock is please. Can´t wait.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Jesus Land

One of the most popular things to do in Buenos Aires is visit Tierra Santa, a religious based themepark right next to runway 2 of the domestic airport. This place has got intelligent design written all over it. Here you can experience "the biggest animated nativity of the world". From the "incredibly real Jesus sitting at his table with his 12 apostles to enjoy the last supper" to the "impressive 18 metre high Jesus Christ with 36 mechanical movements¨. The latter, being a monument to the resurrection, which one can see re-enacted every 20 minutes. To an enigma like soundtrack our Christ rises from the hill to the rapturous applause of everyone belowThere´s the wailing wall, the museum of religiousness, the muppets house, even a mosque. Throw in a few Romans, a couple of Virgin mary´s, Mother Theresa and you´ve got yourself a tourist site like no other. ( well this side of the Dead sea anyway).You can even buy beers, chat to some pharisees, suck on a date palm, and watch some quality belly dancing in one of the many live shows. ( her navel was of course covered up). This place is seriously popular as well, the buses were lining up outside with camera toting tourists ready to feast on felafel and or wander down craftsmen way for the chance to purchase an ornamental Jesus park urn. We all felt like we were in an episode of the Flintstones and have to say that I hope no one in the hills district of Sydney catches on to whats going down over here

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Putting on Aires

It has to be the city destination of the world today. A bottle of very good red wine from mendoza,Gourmet whatever you imagine in a genius sauce delivered with all the new York trimmings in a trendier restaurant this side of any soho for 15 Australian dollars a head. It´s Paris without the prices. Italy without the attitude, london without the weather. Never before have I spent days shopping in a city´s trendiest boutiques followed by meals the equivalent of a small loan in Australia. We are living it up in BA no doubt about it. Even the sidewalks here have carpets.

The dog walkers are truly hilarious. We have seen up to 18 dogs being walked a la New York style. Interestingly they are amazingly well behaved. You never see them fight or hear them bark, despite the fact they are usually tied up in a huge bundle as their walker heads off to another block of units to collect yet another dog.BA is also the land of the Psychoanalyst. There are more therapists here per capita than anywhere else in the world. Just goes to show that too much good food and excellent boutiques really doesn´t make you happy. Oh well might have to go and console myself with a warm duck confit salad with heirloom tomato bisque topped with caremilised tart tatin and served with grilled gypsy peppers.

Saint Maradona

"Maradona is the King of Argentina" I remarked off handedly to the man on the ferry
"Maradona is not a king" He replied disgustedly, "He is a God"
And there you have it. Nothing more to be said. Browsing the newspaper stands in Buenos Aires you can find about 8 magazine covers with Lord Maradona. ( To put this into perspective thats about 3 more than Shakira). He even has his own TV show at the moment called the Night of the Number 10. ( No prize for guessing that was the numero on his football jersey). The new look trimmed down, stomach stapled Maradona has already appeared interviewing Fidel Castro, Heading footballs with Pele and achieving other impossible feats such as getting more than 4 syllables out of Mike Tyson. It also appears he´s set for a political career, rallying the protesters against George W Bush´s recent visit. Needless to say theres a Diego Maradona shop, every type of Diego Maradona coffee cup, or souvenir football you could ever desire.

For the Argentinians he reflects their tumultous times. He began life in the slums of Buenos Aires and made it to the top of world football even leading them to the world cup victory in 1986. His most famous incident ( after firing an airgun at a reporter, or getting hooked on Cocaine, or whacking on double his weight) was the hand of god incident against England. In the world cup semi final he famously hit the ball into the net with his hand thereby leading Argentina to victory. To a country that holds the value of sneakiness and cheekiness above all else it was perfect. Upon being blamed for "robbing" the game, he was even heard to reply, "Whoever robs a thief gets a 100 year pardon" referring to the recent Falklands war with England.

Moreover as Argentina´s fortunes faltered during the currency crisis, so did Maradona´s. He was on his deathbed addicted to Cocaine. But now he´s back, bigger, better and cheekier than ever, just like Argentinas economic fortunes. All Praise to be maradona

Monday, November 14, 2005

Going loco at the Futbol

Yes it´s true, Kate and I have finally joined the Aussie balmy army. We have gone out of our way, in fact travelled hundreds of mile for the sole purpose of shouting Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi at a bunch of blokes running around in yellow shorts. In fact Kate Browne was even spotted singing the National anthem and with quite a bit of volume I might add. So after securing our tickets along with 250 other fanatics we ventured into the legendry cauldron of Estadio centenario in Montevideo on saturday afternoon. There were all sorts of charming young aussie men there, most of them pissed out of their minds and some of which had travelled all the way from Australia to watch the game and then turn right back around again to head back to Australia for the next leg. Kate and I had our own multicultural contingent which included Dan (English), Chantel (US) and Ezekiel ( Argentina). So armed with our free yellow t shirt kindly handed out by the Australia embassy we trudged off to the stadium ( with the t-shirts hidden of course for fear of attack. Once inside the stadium, and with a sudden onset of courage( probably due to the hundred or so riot police protecting us) we donned out t-shirts ready for the onslaught of beer cans, fireworks and other incendiary devices we surely expected to be flung in our general direction. But shock horror...nada... zip...nil. It was all hype. In fact I´ve never met a bunch of better behaved supporters in my life. The closest they got to hurling anything was when they offered us a sip of their mate´tea. The stadium was noisy but not outrageously so and the only badly behaved people there were the aussie yobbos giving the female riot police a hard time. In fact the Uruguayans were considerably more sophisticated than us aussies and there was hardly a drunken one of them in sight

The game itself was fun. Australia losing 1-0 but hopefully in the home leg in Sydney the socceroos can score 2 goals and make the first world cup in 30 years. One of the funniest highlights was SBS presenter Les Murry mobbed by yobbos chanting Les Les Les who then proceeded to spill beer all over his suit.

In fact our 5 days in Montevideo were terrific fun. We somehow managed to score tickets to Manu Chow on the Thursday night and had a rollicking great night listening to his Spanish blend of Reggae/scar that has every hippy this side of Bogota rising their joints in religious awe. The city itself has the atmosphere of a John Le Carre thriller, with 50´s architecture, and old time cafes on every corner.

As in Argentina, the popular thing to do here is the Parilla which is basically a huge BBQ with more meat than you can poke a really long stick at. Kate the Vegetarian was extremely impressed when her portion arrived

But now the flying uruguay visit is over and we´re back in Buenos Aires and living it up in the land of tango, red wine, crazy drivers, Maradona, designer boutiques, psychoanalysts and more Maradona...

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Video killed the football star

"What country you from?" asked the female customs inspector upon arrival
"Australia" replied the grinning idiot called Ed
"Australia, oh my god... right open your bags please"

and thus was our introduction to Uruguay 4 days before the world cup Football qualifier on Saturday. We´ve just arrived in montevideo and have our tickets for Saturday´s game, although this being good news is yet to be decided. For those non football fans.... to qualify for the world cup Australia plays Uruguay in a 2 game decider... one game in Montevideo and one in Sydney ( which sold out in 1 minute). It is an exact replay of the game 4 years ago where Uruguay defeated Austrlai thereby earning qualification. On that day the Australians players were spat on when they arrived at the airport, a band was sequestered to play drums outside the team hotel all night long and basically the soccerroos couldn´t have felt more welcome than if they had accidently stumbled into the trenches at Flanders.
The build up has already been fun with complete war between the Uruguay and Austrlalia soccer federations. Firstly the Uruguyans wanted more time between the two games. Soccer Australia refused... so Uruguay scheduled the game in Montevideo for 10pm so Australia would miss the Lan chile flight back for the second game hence having less time to recover. Australia managed to charter a flight.... the Uruguays flight fell thru and now Australia won´t let them change the time back.... who said Sport wasn´t politics.
So here we are in Montivideo... shouting Aussie Aussie Aussie from every street corner ( albeit in Spanish) and pretending not to have read the Australian Government travel warning about visiting Montivideo and keeping a low profile. Oh well... if you´re to go to one football match on the continent this one is it. So keep your eye out on the telly for 2 idiots clad in yellow amongst a sea of blue... we´ll be the ones the fireworks are aimed at. Luckily we talked Dan ( English) Chantel ( American) and Ezekiel( Argentinian) into joining us for the slaughter. Well barbecue actually....thats what the hotel attendent pronounced it would be when we checked in... At least those Uruguayans have a sense of humour

Friday, November 04, 2005

Island of big heads

Easter Island, or as the Spanish prefer Isla de Pascua, or as the easter Islanders prefer Rapa Nui, or as my friends from the Lunatic fringe prefer to call The Lost continent of Mu. So what can be said about a place where more than 800 large stone heads populate an Island smaller than the suburb of Bondi? Well the truth about this place is that it is an extra terrestrial sculpture park. Nearly one galactic year ago (26,000 Earth years), humanity lived in peace harmony and more importantly prosperity. Unfortunately some really nasty aliens took a wrong turn on the supergalactic highway and landed on the lost continent of the Mu. Of course they found this goddy goody society sickening and set about turning these freaks into stone statues with grumpy faces. Today the only surviving Mu-ite is of course Malcolm Fraser whose likeness to the statues is obvious to anyone.
Today the mu-ites spend most of their time looking at elderly German tourists clad in safari suits. It truly is a very sad end but just goes to prove that the search for peace and harmony is anything but a noble cause.
But tourists come for miles to gaze at these large heads and invent all sorts of ridiculous explanations to as how they came to be standing all over the Island. One of the most bizarre theories is that they were carved by the islanders between 200 and a thousand years ago to honour their ancesters. They even point to the fact that various statues at different stages of completion have been found in a quarry displaying the stages of production. What freaks and very disrespectful to the Ancient tribe of Mu´s.These freaks even go on to say that the Islanders ran out of resourses in about the seventeenth century and henceforth a period of tribal warfare erupted which led to the toppling of the big heads (which these idiots call Moai). They go on to say the heads were moved with log sleds. How ridiculous as any idiot can see the heads walked down the hill themselves
Talking of big heads Kate fitted in very well on the Island despite the fact that it is one of the most isolated spots anywhere. It took us 5 hours and 40 minutes to fly from Chile, and for the record the tourists aint coming here for the food. Yes everything is in Tokyo prices and the vegetables are the same as 50´s Communist Russia. (With the queue´s as well) In fact so small is the Island that on the electronic map inside the plane showing where exactly we are on the planet, the diagramatic Aeroplane was in fact larger than the Island. But it was well worth the trip. We ended up having 4 days cycling, walking and getting sunburnt around this very beautiful but quite treeless Island. It even had a very tropical looking beach
One of the most interesting spots was the site of the Birdman cult. in this very strange ritual, men would climb down from the steep cliff in the photo below and swim out to the Islands you see behind me to search for sea bird eggs. First back thru the shark infested waters won the dubious honour of being the Birdman for a year. This involved living alone on a remote beach after having shaved off all your bodily hair. Mmmm maybe the alien theories arent as crazy as they sound