My photo
Comprising Spagus (derived from Asparagus), or Cam. Previously rural banker and farmer that has decided to ditch his tie and gumboots in exchange for a backpack and shaved head. Partnered with Shroom (derived from Mushroom), or Cat. Formally a country/city/country girl that has left behind the world of policy consulting and has ditched her high heels for some comfortable (yet stylish) footwear to support a wee bit of globetrotting through 2010 and 2011. We hope you enjoy following the travels of SpaguShroom through Europe, North America and South America!

Friday, March 25, 2011

So long, farewell, chao

With packed bags we sit and wait at our hostel before travelling to the airport to board our 2.30 am flight to Auckland. This is our last blog post and at this point we would like to thank everyone who has made this trip possible for us:
Emily and Victoria in London. Emma and Raffi in Switzerland. Chris and Mel in Toronto. David and Courtney in Dallas. Hayden and Alicia in West Yellowstone. Steve and Lyndalla in Idaho. Teri and Jo in Susanville. Richard and Chris in San Francisco. Laura and Bob in Santa Barbara. Al in Telluride. Steve and Tara in Albuquerque.
And also to of our followers! As mentioned we truly have appreciated all your feedback and comments on the blog. We hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as we have enjoyed creating it.
But for now the adventures end, and it is time for real life back at home in NZ. If anything this trip has allowed us to fully appreciate our home country for what it is and for what it has to offer. We will miss the frequent question of ‘where are you from?’ and being proud to boast ‘New Zealand’. Generally people either exclaim that they love it and have visited several times or that they some day dream of visiting. I am not sure that any other country in the world would get that sort of reaction so frequently! So that’s pretty cool.
We also hope that this has inspired some to travel. Obviously we are very fortunate to have had such an experience, but if there is a chance to indulge in travel that pushes you beyond your boundaries and introduces you to other cultures – we cannot recommend it more highly. People often ask what is our highlight of the trip, this is difficult to pinpoint as we have had such a variety of rich experiences over a long period of time. But one would certainly be the fact that every single day for the last ten months we have been pushed beyond our comfort zone and from this we believe our minds have been opened and that we have grown exponentially. Our adventure has certainly been an education and an investment that we will carry for life. We are so grateful.
But on that note we are also very ready for home; ready for not living out of a pack, to not have to line up for the shower, to not have to label your own food and still find that it’s been stolen and most importantly of all to sleep in our own bed!
Hope to see you all soon!
Hasta luego,
Cam and Cat

Buenos Aires, ARGENTINA - (March 23 – March 25)

We enjoyed a pleasant bus ride through the Andes mountain range to Santiago. The border process was fairly smooth, though as our temporary passport fills up and our visa for Argentina is almost expired we seem to draw more attention from officials.
Arriving back at our hostel in Santiago we discovered our booking had been muddled and so we scored a free night in the dorm. A nice surprise and we were able to treat ourselves to Japanese for dinner. We had stored a bag full of ‘stuff’ at the hostel and so spent a significant amount of time rearranging our bags and filling our additional bag.
The following morning we caught an early morning flight across the Andes to Buenos Aires. The views over the snow capped mountain range were spectacular and a lovely way to farewell the mountains that have become so familiar. We arrived into a rainy and cold Buenos Aires, so once settled in our hostel we ventured out for long overdue haircuts and an early dinner at a nearby restaurant.

The next couple of days were public holidays in Buenos Aires so we slept in and slowly wandered the central city completing our shopping list and braving the intense tourist crowds of downtown.

We also managed to tick off one last activity on our ‘to do’ list - a Tango show in Buenos Aires. Tango music was born in Buenos Aires in 1880, initially only played in brothels, dance (by men) was eventually added to defer boredom of the audience. Eventually women were added and from there is grew in the suburbs and onto the streets, and finally to ballrooms throughout the city.
We had been recommended the Tango show at one of the city’s oldest Cafes, Cafe Tortoni. The Cafe itself has been operating since 1858 and still boosts much of its’ original grand decor. Beneath the marble floor of the Cafe Tango and Jazz shows take place daily. Arriving at 7.30 pm we were hastily ushered from the street to our seats as there were large protests taking place outside in the centre of the city. We are still unsure as to the reason for so much passion and for thousands of people to gather – but we assume it was political. The energy that came from the crowd was quite overwhelming and an example of the everyday passion that exudes from the Argentinean people.

Once in the basement we were absorbed into choosing our bottle of Malbec and excited for the show to begin. The five piece band of grand piano, double base, cello, violin and piano-accordion played fantastic music throughout the evening. The six dancers were polished and the show was delivered in humour, with finesse. We were very happy that our reasonably priced tickets provided us with a rich authentic experience in a very intimate environment. We recommend the Cafe Tortoni show for anyone visiting the city.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Mendoza, ARGENTINA - (March 19 – March 22)

We had inadvertently booked 1st class tickets on our bus journey from Buenos Aires to Mendoza. The 180 degree tilt of the seat, champagne and delicious meal certainly made all the difference; it was nice to have our final over-night bus journey in style. At last we had discovered the awesomeness of Argentinean buses that everyone had been talking about! We arrived into Mendoza 14 hours later feeling refreshed after a reasonable nights’ sleep.
Mendoza is all about the wine, and luckily for us Malbec wine in particular. The Mendoza region is the largest wine producing area in all of South America. It has a widespread irrigation system which provides year-round water for the lush tree lined city and surrounding wineries. The natural environment of mountains, rivers, and wide open plains allows for many adventure activities in the area including gliding, horse riding, rafting, trekking and of course winery tours. Therefore creating a major tourist hub for those of all ages and budgets.
But we were here for one main reason and that was to investigate the wineries. Once settled into our lovely relaxed hostel we got down to selecting our wine tour. The main attraction for many backpackers like us is the self-tour of budget wineries done by bike. Although this did interest us initially we were quite easily sold into the more expensive, privately tailored day tour of three of the regions’ most exclusive wineries. The hostel puts together this day of decadence for four willing winos that can break the budget and experience the real Mendoza. So we did.
Wineries, like everything else in South America, are closed on Sunday so we spent the next two days relaxing in the backyard of our hostel and shopping in the city. We were also fortunate to meet with some friends, Susie and Berto, that we had meet at PSF in Peru. It was lovely to have a beer in the sun and compare travel stories from the past two months.

We also went out for our first ‘steak’ dinner at a reputable restaurant located in a near-by suburb. Argentina is famous for its’ good quality steak and other than cooking one ourselves (which was amazing) we wanted to experience one prepared by the experts. As per usual we were first in the whole restaurant, even though we stretched our arrival until 9pm. The service was excellent and as common for Argentinean restaurants, was provided by a middle aged man dressed formally in black and white. The steak was excellent and washed down with a bottle of Premium Malbec, we had ticked another quintessential Argentinean experience off the list. Life is tough.
Monday morning rocked around and as usual it was a stunning blue-sky sparkling hot day. We were picked up from our hostel by our driver for the day and proceeded to our first winery located about 30 minutes out of town - in the depths of the wine growing region. We had a quick tour of the Carinae winery which has been operating for 100 years and still uses its’ original concrete vats. This boutique vineyard produces 100,000 bottles of wine per year using its’ own grapes and a small amount imported from the north of Argentina for its’ chardonnay.

We then had tastings and a discussion of the range of wines from the blends through to the premium selections, produced by the winery. We purchased a bottle of a very reasonably priced Malbec and enjoyed strolling through the vines and admiring the wine-barrel furniture.

The next stop was an olive factory. Here we had a very informative tour and learnt about both the trees and the process involved in producing olive oil. We learnt that green and black olives are from the same tree, simply harvested at the beginning (green) and end (black) of the season and one tree produces 100 kgs of olive oil. Next we tasted (or rather I gorged myself on) both the oil and olives produced and restrained ourselves from buying up the entire store. With many tapenades, beauty products and oil sold by the gallon we shopped with self-control and are perhaps grateful that we have a weight restriction on our bags for travelling home.
Our next winery, Ruca Malen, was located in a stunning setting at the foothills of the Andes. This ten-year-old winery produces 500,000 bottles of wine per year and is therefore classed as medium sized. The winery itself grows only 22 hectares of grapes and thus needs to import grapes from all over Argentina to produce into wine.

We were taken through a very comprehensive tour of the estate, production area and cellar. We were fortunate to see the wine being bottled as a mobile unit had been brought in for the day. Here we also learnt about the difference in American and French oak barrels and the importance this has on the taste and structure of the wine. This tour contrasted nicely with the smaller boutique winery we had seen previously. At the conclusion of our tour we were treated to lunch, served in an outdoor dining room which had an unobstructed view of the vines with the backdrop of the snow capped Andes. Over a two hour period of decadence we were served five courses matched with six of the vineyard’s wines.

The entire experience was just divine; not only for the taste buds but we learnt a lot about tasting the subtle flavours in the wines brought about by the different blends and processes. It truly was magic and we were very satisfied by the time we left for our third and final winery of the day.

Kaiken produces 2.5 million bottles of wine per year and it is fast expanding. Here we had the most informative tour of the day where we learnt about the three different types of vines grown on the property, about the irrigation of the area and the specific wine that is produced by this winery. We visited the large underground cellar and then did a tasting of three wines; rose, malbec and cabernet.

The tasting was very comprehensive as we were coached through what to smell, look for and taste in each of the wines. They were good but at this point we had reached saturation and the wines were out of our price range. Still it was a nice way to end the day with yet another completely different winery.

The next stop after this was home - thank goodness as we were all fairly stuffed. It was a magic day, we learnt so much and was worth every penny we spent.
Mendoza had been good to us, the weather perfect, the hostel lovely and relaxed, and the culinary experience off the hook. Everything and more that we had expected of the place.
Tomorrow we board the bus to head through the Andes and back to Santiago de Chile as our ticket home begins from here.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Punta del Este & Montevideo & Colonia, URUGUAY - (March 15 – March 18)

We arrived into the flashy beach resort city of Punta del Este early Tuesday morning. As our taxi drove through the city there were notable differences to the South America we know; high-rise apartment blocks stretching along the golden sandy beach front coupled with with flashy houses, shops and cars. Punta del Este attracts wealthy South Americans and holiday makers from around the world known for its’ miles of pristine beaches and glitzy nightlife. This suited us just perfectly – if just for one night!

Our B&B we stayed in was gorgeous; located in an exclusive leafy superb we felt as though we were staying in a home in the country side. Such a contrast from our previous large party hostel, we instantly felt relaxed. We spent most of the day at the beach enjoying the sun with the local retirees. Again the peak season is over so everything was closed but we could imagine the activity in Summer with many flashy beachside restaurants and bars.

One defining feature of Uruguay that we concluded through diligent hours of beach-side research; is the sheer number of women sporting great bums. Women of all ages unashamedly bear g-bang bikini bottoms, but with good right as it seems that South American women in general are blessed with great genes concerning this area.

That evening the owners of the guesthouse prepared a traditional Uruguayan asado (BBQ). Serving an assortment of food, all cooked on the BBQ, which included; chorizo, pork, peppers, corn, cheese, bread and masses of tender beef. In traditional fashion it was served in stages as it was ready so we enjoyed a good graze over several hours. Super tasty and it makes our gas BBQs at home seem quite pathetic compared to this beast. Constructed of brick; on one side wood is burnt on a concave grill to produce the hot coals which are then shifted underneath the main grill where the food is cooked. Genius.

The following day after a home-made breakfast we caught the bus to Montevideo. Again we had managed to score a great apartment-type hostel; this one was in a large lofty colonial building complete with a roof top terrace and located in the centre of the historic part of the city. We enjoyed the space and ventured out for a small look during our stay, but apart from some pretty 19th century neo-classical buildings and a few good shops-it doesn’t have too much to offer the tourist.

After a one night’s stay and a fabulous organic breakfast we set off for our final destination in Uruguay, Colonia del Sacramento. Colonia was founded by the Portuguese in 1680 to smuggle goods across the Rio de la Plata to Buenos Aires. Referred to as the ‘old Lisbon’, the Portuguese style coloured houses and street plan vary significantly from Spanish colonial cities.

Part of the town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We thoroughly enjoyed our day walking the cobbled streets, exploring the shops tucked away in the wee alley ways and relaxing in the tranquillity of the many large oak trees.

Later that afternoon we boarded the boat for our one hour journey across the water to Buenos Aries. Here we catch our last overnight bus to the wine region of Mendoza in the centre of Argentina.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Punta del Diablo, URUGUAY - (March 11 – March 14)

We left Iguazu Falls at around 2pm on Thursday afternoon and arrived at our destination, Montevideo in Uruguay at 8pm the following day. As we are travelling with our Emergency Documents we were uncertain if like Argentina, we would require visas to enter Uruguay. In optimism we had booked our transport and our accommodation so were thankful when authorities allowed us through with not too much hassle. With the last of our long distance journeys over we were happy to finally arrive into a steaming hot Montevideo.
We stayed one night in the capital city and the next day had a quick look through the shops before jumping on a bus to Punta del Diablo. El Diablo is a small fishing/surfing township located on the coast 4.5 hours drive from the capital. During the summer, vacationers from neighbouring Brasil and Argentina flock to the area increasing the population from several hundred to over twenty thousand. Thankfully peak season has passed so there were only a small handful of holidaymakers and the usual backpacking crowd. The small town consists of several sandy streets containing eateries and a handful of shops.

We arrived into El Diablo on a rough stormy evening - we were grateful to be in the fresh air and out of the city. Our hostel was located a few minutes walk from the beach and best of all had several puppies that lived there. The hostel itself was quite nice but as they packed as many people into the rooms as possible the place was anything but its’ namesake – El Tranquilo (quiet).

That evening we decided to treat ourselves at one of the rustic local restaurants on the beach front. Arriving around 8pm we were the only customers but assumed we were early for local standards so went ahead and ordered the ‘grill for two’ craving a feast of decent meat. By the time our meal arrived at our table after 9 pm we were ravenous, but the restaurant remained empty. Launching into our large BBQ pile of meat we soon discovered that our meal was not quite as we had expected as we had inadvertently ordered the local delicacy of offal. As we pulled the platter apart hoping for some steak or chorizo we were disappointed to find a variety of not so delicious assortments of liver, intestines, black pudding and other mystery items. We are not fussy eaters but when you anticipate a meal of good quality meat and are instead presented with bad quality and undercooked chunks of offal with no sauces, salad or anything else - it is difficult to suck it up and just enjoy! Thankfully it did not go to waste as the dismayed waitress cleared the mostly untouched meal from our table and then proceeded to feast on the food with other staff members. Having paid for one of the most expensive meals on our trip we left the restaurant with empty stomachs and had a good laugh on the walk home. At least the wine had been OK.

We had four nights in El Diablo, our aim was to wind down and relax - our wee holiday before returning home. The weather was a mixed bag of hot and sunny for two days and cold and windy for another. We made the most of our time and enjoyed exploring the area, swimming at the beach and just taking in the gorgeous fresh air.
We also enjoyed our first sample of Mate. Mate is a tea which is prepared by steeping chopped dried leaves and drinking this through a metal straw that contains a filter. It is a very common site to see people walking down the street, on the beach, driving, or basically anywhere clutching a flask under their arm and sipping from their Mate cup. It is a ritual which seems ingrained into the culture here so we were excited to try it. It is very similar to green tea having a strong bitter taste but something that could definitely grow on us.

On our last night in El Diablo we found a cute wee eatery that served empanadas and fresh seafood paella. We savoured this as the cold wind blew in from the beach and the sun set over the sea, a great end to a relaxing stay.

The next morning we woke very early to catch the commuter bus to the beach resort of Punta del Este.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Iguazu Falls, ARGENTINA - (March 7 – March 9)

On Monday morning we arrived into a very hot and humid Puerto Iguazu. Flying made all the difference and for the first time we felt refreshed arriving into a new place. The small town has a relaxed tropical-island feel but at the same time parts of it are fairly run down. Despite hoards of tourists constantly flocking to the area for the falls it was very quiet and not crowded at all.
Following an afternoon nap we headed out for a stroll and stumbled across a cluster of stalls selling goodies such as olives, cured meats, cheeses, and preserved fruits, along with wine and beer. The stalls together created an improvised bar area with rows of tables and chairs spilling onto the road where people relaxed in the cooler evening temperatures. We followed the crowd and savoured a delicious mixed platter and deep fried empanadas all washed down with a cold beer. Perfect.

The following morning we rose early to take the first bus to the Parque Nacional Iguazu. The Rio Iguazu forms three parts to the falls; upper falls, lower falls and the Devil’s Throat. The falls can be viewed from both the Argentinean and Brazilian sides. We were not able to visit the Brazil side as our Emergency Documents that we are travelling with only have enough pages to get us through the remaining borders of our trip before home. A bit disappointing but apparently there is more to see on the Argentina side.

As we were first through the gate we were able to enjoy parts of the Park to ourselves. We walked the various routes which provided ever changing and spectacular views of the falls. The sound and constant spray produced in some parts was just terrific. The platforms provided opportunities to get right amongst the warm waters and experience the falls for real.

The Park covers an area of 55,000 hectares and is covered in lush tropical forest; it supports over 200 plant species and over 400 bird species. We were lucky to see many birds, monkeys, gigantic spiders and gorgeous colourful butterflies.

We also took a ride in a large boat to get in close with the falls at water level. As we boarded the vessel we noticed many people in full swim suit attire and had thought that it was rather over the top. This was until we were steered directly into the spray of the falls and sat there for a good few seconds drenching us all right through to our underwear and socks. We then did this several times over which would have been more fun had we been a bit more prepared, instead it was a bit odd as we all cowered and closed our eyes as the heavy water fell on our heads.

Nevertheless we were able to partially dry off as we squelched our way around the remainder of the park, leaving the biggest attraction of the Devil’s Throat until last. Here the platform provides views of the beginning of the falls and sits above where the water crashes over the edge. It was difficult to obtain that perfect picture as large clouds of spray drifted up and over the platform providing another drenching. However it was well worth the great view once we could fight our way through the hoards of people to the barrier.

All in all it was a great experience. As we had begun our day early and part of the Park was closed we were finished by just after midday. We headed back into town for lunch at a great local restaurant.
Wednesday afternoon we jump on a bus and head 20 hours south to Buenos Aires where we will then catch a boat (followed by another bus) to Montevideo, Uruguay.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Buenos Aires, ARGENTINA - (March 3 – March 7)

At this point of our trip, as one would expect, we are pretty much over buses. In just under two weeks since leaving Santiago we have spent around 105 hours sitting on a bus. We always knew it was going to be a long journey to get south and back in such a short time period - but perhaps we were not quite prepared for such distances. We felt as though our time was spent constantly on buses as opposed to seeing and enjoying the places. Now having done Patagonia we think that it should be a trip in itself. But this is all part of the travel experience and every bus journey has certainly been unique. Whether it is the changing scenery, numerous border patrol checks or like our last journey from Puerto Madryn where the bus had lost its front suspension, there is always something different to help keep us entertained. Every time the bus drove over the most minute bump in the road we were tossed around in our seats and several times during the night we were woken to find ourselves jolted out of our seats. Funny for the first five minutes but very uncomfortable for 20 hours.
Needless to say we were very excited to arrive into the mighty city of Buenos Aires. It was a scorching hot afternoon as we took a taxi through the city to our hostel. Our hostel left a lot to be desired, it could be fantastic with its’ grungy decor but instead it was very filthy and we were put into a room we had not booked. After some complaining we were moved to a better room which made the stay more acceptable.
Our first day was spent wandering the city’s centre admiring the 19th century European architecture and enjoying the abundance of large leafy trees which provided respite from the intense Autumn heat. Stopping for a sit in the shade in one of the many Plaza’s we were amused to see some professional dog walkers which this city is renowned for. Very cute and very entertaining.

We thoroughly explored the downtown area which provided a huge array of shopping opportunities from chain stores, to leather shops and many exclusive Polo stores. We were very excited to see such variety and fantasised about replacing our very dreary and rundown backpack-wardrobes. As this was slightly out of our price range the next day we headed to Palermo to check out the gorgeous street market and designer boutiques that sold goods at surprisingly reasonable prices. We had lunch at one of the many up-market cafes and enjoyed people-watching in this very affluent suburb of the city.

Our third day, Sunday, was spent catching up on admin as well as visiting the San Telmo markets which were crammed full of locals and tourists shopping up a storm. We cooked from home for both lunch and dinner as we had been very spoilt during our stay here and indulged in eating out for both lunch and dinner at the many fabulous cafes and restaurants. Through a diligent and thorough research process we have discovered our new love; the delicious Malbec wine. This densely coloured drop with soft tannins and hints of blackberry originated in France but is now primarily produced in Argentina - with 70% of the world’s production. We will certainly be looking up this variety when we return home as it is also produced in NZ. Delicious.
We have just loved our four night stay in BA, this city is beautiful and has a lot to offer. We will return for a couple of nights before we fly to Auckland in 3 weeks time. Monday morning we pack our bags and jump on a plane for a pleasant 2 hour journey to the north of Argentina to see the mighty Iguazu Falls.

(The observant readers will notice we have changed the blog photo. Slightly more appropriate compared to the house we previously lived - almost 10 months on this feels like a distant memory to us both)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Puerto Natales (Patagonia), CHILE & Puerto Madryn, ARGENTINA - (February 25 - March 2)

We arrived into Puerto Natales on a very cold and dreary day. This small town was surprisingly run-down and shabby, far different from the previous Patagonian towns of Barliroche and El Calafate. Many tourists visit this town as a base for the near-by Torres del Paine National Park or to board the north bound Navimag that sails through the Chilean fjords.
Our intentions for visiting Puerto Natales were to hikle the famous W trail; a 5 day trek in the Torres del Paine. However after much deliberation we decided to pull the pin. The weather was looking dodgy and we simply were not equipped for the hike which would have meant hiring and purchasing the essential items. This combined with the high park fees it would have cost us over $1000, a little out of our range at this point of our trip! Disappointing, but we may return some day to do the hike, and then will have the ability to bring all the required gear with us.
The next day we jumped on a bus and headed back across the border to Rio Gallegos, Argentina. After this 6 hour journey we had a few hours lay-over at the bus station and boarded our next bus on an overnight journey, heading northwards along the coast. We had finally come across the bus companies which we had heard so much about. Full service that included meals (albeit partially edible), cama seats and just generally a better standard of service than we have had on any other bus journey. Twenty hours later we arrived into the sunny sea-side town of Puerto Madryn.

Traditionally Puerto Madryn is a tourist destination primarily to view the right whale migration from June until December. Unfortunately we missed out on this but instead spent our two days taking in the sun and wandering the beachy streets; stretching our muscles in preparation for the next journey ahead. Wednesday evening we board yet another bus and head 20 hours further north to Buenos Aires.