Saturday, May 10, 2008

final thoughts

countries visited: Peru Colombia Brazil Argentina Chile
animals handled: Anaconda Squirrel Monkey Pink Dolphin Piranha Puffer Fish
animals eaten: Alpaca Sea Turtle Alligator
outdoor activities: Mountain Biking Rock Climbing Open Water Swimming Scuba Diving Scuba Diving
Paragliding Mountaineering Riverboarding Rafting
destinations reached under own power: Choquequirao Pão de Açucar / Sugarloaf Villarrica

Medical tips gleaned from this trip:
  • Do not get 98% DEET in your eyes. Seriously.

  • When swimming through a shipwreck, you rookie, keep your hands tucked in.

Best pizza: Peru! Go figure. Some tiny little restaurant in Iquitos that we wandered into because it was just around the corner from our hostel and because we were quite done with sampling local foods for a change. Delicious pizza! Especially the sweet one with fruit and condensed milk. Served with an ice cold coke. The only way to properly eat pizza. AAAAHHH!!!

Best snack: Acarajé from Bahia, Brazil. Fatally good. This alone caused me to gain several pounds.

Favourite new drink: Guaraná. Favourite new chemical juice: Peru's "Inka Kola". Radioactive neon yellow.

Best ice cream: Persicco in Buenos Aires. Many many close contenders here (causing me to gain many more pounds), such as the place in Colombia whose owner was so friendly that her giving us lengthy verbose redundant directions to some place in town culminated in her leaving her shop to drive us there herself. Guess what nationality she was.

And finally, the long awaited conclusion of the Brazil vs. Argentina steak house match. And the award goes to...


Fantastic steak cooked over an open charchoal fire right in front of the restaurant in Pucon. Came on a plate with just the steak. Nothing else. No broccoli. No sissy veggies. Meat.

Lessons learned:

  • One month of travel really is nothing.

  • The more items one crosses off of the To Do list, the longer the list becomes.

Final thought:

There will undoubtedly be more thoughts, so this one is not it.

Friday, May 9, 2008


Here are some remaining pictures and videos. They have also been added retroactively to the relevant blog entries.

From the Iquitos entry:

Mototaxi ride in Iquitos.

From the Anaconda entry:

Some more pics of the visit to the Indian tribes at Iquitos, Peru. Notice the guy trying to sell me his bow even during the picture posing.

From the Rio 4 entry:

Botafogo - Fluminense at Maracanã. Listen to the samba drums! They went on for the full 90 minutes. The guy pacing in the foreground also went on for the full 90 minutes, shouting directions to the players and praying to the gods. Literally.

Penalty for Fluminense!

Score tied, 5 minutes to go...

From the Ilha Grande entry:

What a ridiculous looking creature that is. The pufferfish is pretty weird too.

From the forró entry:

Live music and dancing on stage at the forró party.

Saturday, May 3, 2008


Alas, time to commence the journey back home. The first stage consisted of an overnight bus from Pucon to the capitol Santiago. It arrived at 7:30AM, and since the flight from Santiago to LA only left in the evening we had a day to spend in Santiago itself. Sandwiched between bus and plane rides and hampered by sleep deprivation we didn't really get much of an impression of Santiago, regrettably. Getting the runaround at the airport for a few hours when we discovered that our flight had been cancelled and that the airline was forgetting the first chapters out of its Customer Service handbook did not help either. Good thing we went to the airport first thing in the morning, so we found this out 12 hours ahead of time. Had we simply showed up 2 hours before the flight, we would have gotten delayed by at least a day.

Of course Santiago has the inevitable Plaza de Armas with architecture and all that, but the authentic flavour that I found much more interesting was the genuine political demonstration that came by.

Following right on its heels was a parade of Chilean Inca tribes displaying their pre-war dance ritual. Behold, the last thing I saw in South America 2008:


No adventure travel destination would ever take itself serious if it did not at least offer white water rafting. But there´s something new on the menu these days: Hydrospeed. Invented in France (where else), it entails swimming through rapids using a sort of body board. Irresistible!

Both rafting and hydrospeed are done on the Trancura river near Pucon. We did the hydrospeed in the morning on the lower part of the river, and rafting in the afternoon on the upper part. Logistically one would think it would make sense to do it the other way around, but alas, that´s the way the group bookings turned out.

The hydrospeed started with some basic instructions on a flat water section, followed by about 90 minutes of swimming through class II and III rapids. The IIs are fairly tame but the IIIs start to get exciting. Unfortunately each section of rapids was fairly short, but it was good fun anyway. I have no doubt that someone will introduce this to the X Games some time, and then I want to do more than class III!

Instruction. There´s not much to it.

Floating through a flat water section.

The rafting is done on the upper part of the Trancura where there are rapids up to class VI. The VI cannot be rafted, so everyone had to exit the raft, climb over rocks, and jump off of the rocks on the other side of the waterfall. Other than that it was a pretty standard rafting trip, except that at one point we waited for 45 minutes for one of the other rafts to become dislodged from a rock in the middle of the rapids.

And that, then, would conclude all the activities for this trip. I consider this month seized!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Villarrica volcano

The village of Pucon is dominated by the looming sight of the Villarrica volcano. At 2847m (9340ft) it is one of the highest volcanoes in the area. It is active, having erupted just last year. Currently most of the activity is in the neighbouring Llaima volcano, which erupted twice this year. All adventure travel agencies in Pucon offer climbs to the top of the Villarrica.

Some guides like to start earlier than others. Some guides like to start at 4AM. That´s 4AM, which is 4 in the morning night. That way the climbers can enjoy the sunrise over the volcano, and be back in the village by 2PM. Our group consisted of 8 climbers and 2 guides. On our way to the volcano we got a bit delayed by a flat tire, and arriving at the base of the mountain we got delayed a bit more because the guides called us for a group huddle.

It was bitter cold. What´s more, contrary to the weather forecasts it was very cloudy. So cloudy that it was doubtful we could make it to the top. They gave us a choice of turning back right there and trying again another day, or giving it a try. The functional difference between the two is that as soon as you start the ascent you´re committed to paying.

I figured that the game-theoretically optimal move was to give it a try, by the Wayne Gretzky rule: You miss 100% of the shots you don´t take. Two people turned back. Of the six that did go, only three would make to the summit.

So off we went. The two guides and one randomly chosen climber had head lamps, the rest of us shuffled along in total darkness.

Picture illuminating the concept of total darkness.

After about an hour´s worth of climbing the group had separated into two: four of us were climbing with one guide, two others with the other. After an hour and a half we started getting some light. It was very cloudy. Our guide ominously said that if the visibility did not improve by the time we got to the Pinguinera point, he´d pull the plug. We crossed our fingers.

The Pinguinera is so called because one can look all the way back and see groups of climbers shuffling up the mountain like penguins. If there´s light and visibility that is. At the Pinguinera we were just getting to the top of the clouds. The sun was starting to rise, giving the clouds spectacular colours. Our guide Guillermo determined that we could tentatively continue, as long as the clouds would not rise.

The Pinguinera is also the point where it gets icy, so we had to put on our crampons and got a crash course in how to use an ice axe. I was absolutely loving the experience. We were already above the clouds and other mountain tops, the view was fantastic. The climb was labouring and got very steep but my heart rate was comfortably under control. It was exhilerating. I want to do more of this!

Luckily the clouds stayed where they were. The summit seemed deceptively close but kept on receding as we climbed towards it. But then, suddenly, at 9:50AM, there it was!

The order of arrival: Netherlands gold, Switzerland silver, Brazil bronze.

We had a nice picnic at the summit and then walked around the crater and admired the views to the inside and outside. There was no lava visible because the Llaima is currently siphoning it off, but there was plenty of smoke and sulphur everywhere.

There are two ways to get down a snowy mountain. One is to put on crampons. It´s slow, labouring, hard on the knees. The other way is to tie a bib around your posterior and slide down the mountain on your ass. It is fast, easy on the knees, and above all, A HECK OF A LOT OF FUN.

Sliding down the mountain. The ice axe is used for controlling the speed.

We slid past a number of groups that were still doing the ascent. Coming down to the Pinguinera there is that big ice sheet that has one narrow twisty gully running through it. Our slide turned into a roller coaster through the gully. Awesome fun!

We got back to the base of the mountain at 12:15. In the evening we soaked ourselves at the local hot springs, along with fellow travellers Miriam from Switzerland and Brian from the US. They are travelling through South America for 5 and 6 months, respectively. We met many others who are travelling for months as well. So to all of you who are saying "you´re lucky to get to travel that long": One month is nothing!

Zeno´s Pucon

To get from Bariloche to Pucon, which is supposed to be Chile´s equivalent thereof, we had hoped to rent a car to enjoy the Patagonian landscape. Trying to arrange a rental car ahead of time had proved to be enormously expensive since it´s a one-way cross-border rental. Maybe it would be possible to have a friendly chat with a local representative and get a more decent price?

Well, no.

So we took the bus, figuring that it would be driving through the very same scenery. There are quite a few bus companies that run long distance lines in the Patagonia area. Unfortunately we could not get a ticket to Pucon as there were no more seats. But one of the bus companies could sell us a ticket to Osorno, which is in Chile halfway to Pucon, and then we could try and get a ticket from there to Pucon.

Arriving in Osorno we tried several bus companies but could not get a ticket to Pucon. However, one of them could sell us a ticket to Loncoche, which is halfway to Pucon, and then we could try and get a ticket from there to Pucon.

Arriving in Loncoche we tried several bus companies but could not get a ticket to Pucon. However, one of them could sell us a ticket to Villarrica, which is halfway to Pucon, and then we could try and get a ticket from there to Pucon.

Continuing thusly we solved Zeno´s Paradox with ever smaller buses on ever bumpier roads, until we actually arrived in Pucon on what apparently doubled as a school bus crammed with Chilean school kids.

Pucon is a backpacker´s paradise. It consists entirely of backpackers hostels with community kitchens where other backpackers offer you some of their popcorn while you´re blogging, adventure travel agencies providing many outdoors activities, and a supermarket with all the health food that backpackers are into. One of the great things about travelling is meeting like-minded people, and Pucon is a paradise in that respect. Bariloche is more cosmopolitan, with shopping galleries and with nice stone and log buildings. I enjoyed Pucon more, feeling at home there right from the moment I arrived.

Tip: One thing to avoid in Pucon is the snack shack on Palguín street. We only had minutes to get something to eat so we grabbed a quick snack there. With admirable artistry they somehow managed to assemble a dozen ingredients on a sandwich in such a way that they all exactly conspired to cancel out each other´s taste.

Why did we only have minutes to get something to eat? Because we had to get up at 3AM, that´s THREE IN THE MORNING, for a dynamite activity.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

parapente and no tango

There was not that much wind today, but enough to get green light for our hoped-for activity: Paragliding! We met up with pilots Ernesto and Federico and drove up to Cerro Otto. The takeoff spot is right below the top station of the ski gondola, but for some reason we did not take the gondola. We drove up there and hiked the rest of the way, eventually culminating in a harrowing little climb.

The takeoff ramp.

The takeoff took a while as there was not much wind so we had to wait for a good gust to come along. Once airborn the experience is absolutely wonderful and exhilerating. I tried taking pictures during the flight, but unfortunately it had just run out of battery power. Due to the relative lack of wind the flight was unfortunately short, lasting maybe 20 minutes to descend 600 vertical meters (2000 ft).

Awesome! Again again!

In the evening we attempted once again to go see a tango show as advertised in the newspapers. And, once again, we got thwarted. Contrary to the information in the newspaper there would be no show tonight, but tomorrow the Bariloche Tango Festival will start and then there will be tango shows. That´s what they told us yesterday and two days ago as well. Alas, we´ll have to miss it. We´re going to Chile tomorrow!

By popular request, the ever entertaining 4 potato croquettes juggle.