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!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

El Calafate, (Patagonia) ARGENTINA - (23 February - 25 February)

Our 27 hour bus journey turned into 30 hours due to the over-the-top passport checkpoints that we had to go through as we passed through the different regions in Argentina. But as we had booked our tickets early we secured cama seats which are bigger and far more comfy than the semi-cama that we usually have. Given our long journey we arrived into sunny El Calafate feeling pretty good.
The main reason people visit this small town is for the nearby Los Glaciares National Park which contains the Perito Moreno Glacier. Although very expensive we decided to join a day tour to the glacier to experience this beast for real and hike on the ice.

As we drove through the National Park we gained glimpses of the glacier, it was far larger than we had anticipated. For the first part of our tour we roamed the 4 km of balcony structure which is erected in front of the glacier. We literally stood, watched and listened for two hours. Completely absorbed by this ever changing ice mass.

This mammoth chunk of ice measures 30 km in length and a depth of 170 m, 75 m of this is above the water surface. It has a whooping volume of 250km3 and unlike other glaciers around the world it is classified as stable. The glacier advances at an astonishing rate of 1.5 m daily but is returned to equilibrium by the huge chunks of ice that constantly break off and smash into the water below. This makes for some fantastic viewing, the gunshot sounds of the cracking ice echoes through the valley and has the crowd gasping.

Next was a boat trip on the lake in front of the glacier, here we felt completely dwarfed as we cruised fairly close to the cracking walls of ice. The boat docked near the north face of the glacier where we disembarked and took a walk to the side of the glacier. Our guide spoke excellent English and told us how the glacier is formed - which in a nutshell is as a result of continuously falling snow in the Andes that is compressed into ice and forced down the mountain by gravity.

Next we had crampons strapped to our shoes and we began our 90 minute hike on the glacier. The surface was very hard and sharp, the aim of the game not to fall as you would cut yourself.

We saw many different features on the glacier including deep fissures and holes where ice was melting and creating unique structures. We took a drink from the freshly melted ice and enjoyed the intense blue glow that was produced by the reflection of ice.

Just before the tour ended we enjoyed a glass of Scotch on the rocks (freshly carved of course) and a chocolate biscuit at the make shift bar that had been set up on the ice. It was a lovely touch and a fantastic end to a surprisingly tiring day!

After our two nights in El Calafate where we stayed in a very comfy hostel and enjoyed the cooking of the hostel owner each night, we head back across the Chilean border to Puerto Natales.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bariloche, (Patagonia) ARGENTINA - (18 February - 22 February)

We boarded our over-night bus on a steaming hot Santiago evening and headed south toward Orsorno. We arrived here 12 hours later at 6 am and booked our onward ticket across the border to Barlioche, Argentina. Unfortunately due to peak season we had to wait for the 1pm bus so we filled our time at a near-by mall using the bathrooms to freshen-up and the internet to book our accommodation that night. The transition through the border went very smoothly and the journey provided stunning views through the Lake District of rugged mountains and pristine lakes.
We arrived into Bariloche in the evening feeling bus-lagged once again. After we checked into our Kiwi-owned hostel, 41 Below, we had a tasty meal of Mexican and rolled into bed feeling dead-beat. The following day we woke to a cloud-less sky and gorgeous warm temperatures. The morning was spent doing some admin and planning for our time in Patagonia (the southern region of South America incorporating both Chile and Argentina) as it is peak season and everything seems to book out well in advance.

We have noticed a sudden change in the type of tourist since entering Patagonia. Where we were amongst the oldest on our travels in Peru and Bolivia here we are by far the youngest. Due to the high cost of travel in this area tourists are older and far wealthier. This combined with the change in affluence of the city, architecture and even cars, we feel as though we have left South America and arrived in Europe. But we are enjoying the change all the same!
Bariloche is a cute town nestled into the base of the Andes. It has many designer boutiques, tourist gift shops, and outdoor equipment stores. It feels a lot like Switzerland with many bakeries, chocolate shops and Swiss-like chalets catering for the ski bunnies in the Winter.
After our morning of admin and exploring the town we caught a bus into the country and did a two hour horse-trek. This took us through the forest and up over the hills that border the lakes. We were treated to fantastic scenery and were even a tad sore when we dismounted at the end!

The following day we were back in the saddle of a different kind. We hired bikes and rode the popular Circuito Chico where we took the whole day to complete the 25 km circuit. We rode through more fantastic scenery of lavish green fields, forest tracks and hill tops that provided the most breath taking views of the lakes and mountains.

We opted for an up-hill hike part way through the circuit where we clambered up rocks to arrive at yet another excellent vantage point. We stopped for lunch on the lake shore and I was brave enough to have a very quick dip in the icey waters.

On the route home we collected drinking water from a road-side spring and stopped in at a local brewery for a quick beer. Such a fantastic day - we were spoilt with the weather and had tired ourselves sufficiently to get back on the bus the following day.
This time we have 27 hours ahead of us as we head to El Calafate in the deep south of Argentina.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Emergency Passports and Visas Santiago, CHILE - (February 11 - February 18)

After our mammoth journey we arrived into Santiago feeling jaded and dirty but were comforted by the familiarity of the city and the hostel. The only room available at our hostel was the expensive pool house, so we made the most and enjoyed our piece of deserved luxury!
We spent most of the weekend lying by the pool, taking in the sun and catching up on sleep. We also met Sean, my cousin at his residence only two blocks away from where we were staying. We enjoyed a lovely lunch with him and heard about his life as a priest here in Chile.
Early Monday morning we headed directly for the NZ Embassy located across the city. As we approached we saw the welcoming NZ flag flapping in the wind. The embassy staff were extremely helpful and sympathetic making the whole process very pleasant. We returned later that afternoon to receive our Emergency Passport (and met the Ambassador) which allows us to enter NZ. We were then advised that we required a Visa to enter Argentina as they did not accept the Emergency Passport.
Early Tuesday morning we visited the Argentinean Embassy to be informed of the massive rigmarole to obtain the Visa. Bank statements, statutory declaration, forms, NZ Embassy letter and photos were all required before the Visa could be processed. And all we want is some decent steak!
Leaving the Embassy at around 10.30 am that morning we proceeded to race around the city fulfilling our obligations. It felt like we were in the Amazing Race as we arrived at the Embassy doors at 1.05 pm, 5 minutes after they closed. Thankfully our English-speaking assistant saw our red faces and documents in hand that she took us in and said that everything looked in order. The Visa itself took 72 hours to process so we had done all we could and would now wait for the phone call.
On Wednesday we visited a very large sports mall to replace some of the gear that had been stolen and to prepare for a trek that we would be doing in Patagonia. This turned into an all day affair as the mall was massive and was located a long way out of the city.
Thursday we picked up our completed visas and celebrated that afternoon with champagne by the pool. One positive to this experience is that we have explored a lot more of Santiago and have seen how beautiful this city really is. The visit has allowed us to repack our bags for our last 5 weeks and leave more stuff at the hostel for our return around 22 March.
Friday evening we board a bus heading southwards. We intend to explore both the Chile and Argentine Patagonia on a tight two week time frame.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Peru to Chile, and almost to Argentina - (February 7 - February 12)

When it comes to buses in South America we consider ourselves pretty much down with the ins and outs of getting to your destination successfully . Over time we have become familiar with all of the features and facets of this mode of transport - on board toilets filling up, disembarkation of the entire bus in the middle of the night for passport/drug/tax evasion searches, overheating/freezing temperatures, movies blasting full volume in dubbed Spanish with Spanish subtitles and the promised on board meal comprising some stale bread and a juice. Our favourite though is having our photo taken as we board each bus apparently to assist in identification of bodies should there be an accident. Always a nice way to instil confidence as we step aboard.
We have heard the horror stories and can confirm that basically what you pay for is what you get - in terms of bus quality and service. We have done the range from the most expensive (a lovely way to travel) to the cheapest local buses which provide an experience at the other end of the scale!

We had many more hours and thousands of kilometres of bus travel ahead of us as we try to make our way to Argentina via Chile.
The first overnight journey from Cusco to Arequipa was fine. We stayed one night in Arequipa but as it was very cold and wet we were pleased to move on the following morning to Tacna located on the boarder of Peru and Chile. For this leg we decided to opt for the cheapest service that the locals use. Again this was fine and we were happy to pay less than half the price of a normal ticket.
Once in Tacna we were hastily squeezed into a Ford Falcon taxi (along with 6 others and our luggage) and proceeded to the boarder. We sailed through the exit of Peru fine, but the entry to Chile was not so smooth for the group due to my clumsiness. Unfortunately I was carrying some Lavender which I had brought up in Croatia many months ago and which had passed through Chile customs the first time! The dog picked this out and as a result I had to empty the contents of my bag in front of the Customs officials. Small glitch and after a smack on the hand we were soon on the road and arrived safely into Arica, Chile.
Feeling a bit jaded but wanting to continue on our journey we booked our ticket for San Pedro de Atacama where we intended to cross from there into Argentina. Our bus departed at 10 pm that night and like any journey was going fine until we pulled in for a stop at 7 am the following morning to find my back pack had been stolen from underneath my feet while I was sleeping. The pack contained a mixture of goodies; my credit card, camera, gortex jacket, gold watch, sunglasses, books and most frustratingly of all, both of our passports.
We narrowed it down to a 2 hour time gap when the pack went missing and the possible people who got off over that time but there is nothing we could do. Thankfully two lovely Brazilian passengers who could speak excellent Spanish and English heard our story and accompanied us to immigration and the police once we arrived in San Pedro. Both the bus company and the police were extremely rude and very unhelpful. We got the sense this happens very often and have heard that this is not unusual for the particular bus company we chose, TurBus.

We spent most of the day sorting out what needed to be done - talking to the bank and the insurance company in NZ and the NZ Embassy in Santiago. To sort out our new passports or emergency documentation we are required to visit the NZ Embassy in Santiago in person. So the following day we jumped on yet another bus and travelled 24 hours to Santiago. We returned to our hostel we had stayed at previously, the lovely Ventana Sur. Our home away from home makes the process a little more comforting.
Monday we visit the Embassy and hopefully find out if we can continue on our original travel plans to Argentina and Uruguay. Otherwise it may have to be a thorough exploration of the south of Chile.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Machupicchu, PERU - (January 30 – February 7)

We said our goodbyes, threw on our backpacks and left PSF behind on Sunday morning. Leaving from the Pan-American Highway (the world’s longest motorable road (48,000 km) extending through the Americas up to Alaska!) we headed an hour north to Ica. From Ica we caught a overnight bus to Cusco.
The twenty hour bus journey felt long enough, as we arrived into a dreary Cusco feeling very stiff and tired after not a lot of sleep. We had decided to treat ourselves after the dusty and dirty living conditions of Pisco and had booked a mid-range hotel. We stayed for two nights and enjoyed the comparative luxury while slowly exploring Cusco.
Cusco was the historical capital of the Inca Empire which reined from the 13th Century until the Spanish Invasion in 1532 and is the gateway to Machupicchu. The gorgeous city centre reflects these influences with many Spanish colonial buildings mixed with some indigenous Inca architecture. Cusco is tourist-central with 1.5 million visitors per year the streets are lined with tour agencies and gift shops.
Due to the rainy season the Inca Trail - which is a 4 day hike that leads to Machupicchu - is closed for maintenance during the month of February. Still wanting to do some form of hiking and not simply visit by train, we decided on the Inka Jungle tour. This tour provided a combination of biking, rafting and hiking over 4 days and 3 nights, arriving at Machupicchu on the final day.
Early Wednesday morning we were picked up by van and driven several hours through the Sacred Valley where we enjoyed the stunning rural scenery. Our group of 13 (half Spanish and half English speaking) was dropped off at 4300m where we kitted up and proceeded to freewheel down on mountain bikes to 1500m. Conditions were wet and cold but by the time we finished up the sun was shining and we returned to the van to continue our journey to our lunch destination.
This journey was painfully slow due to a number of land-slides covering the road. In typical Peruvian style we waited until the loader made the road barely passable and speed across at full speed dodging the falling rocks where we could. Crazy and not for the faint-hearted but a sampler of what was to come for the remainder of our tour. OSH would have a field day here.

Arriving safely to our late lunch we quickly gobbled a 3 course meal and headed out for some white water rafting. As we were running late from the land-slides, darkness was quickly approaching and we were rushed through the safety precautions. This briefing took all of one minute and because this was my first time rafting I was somewhat nervous as I was quickly jumbled on board. However once I and the other beginners on the raft survived the immediate first rapid (and screamed in delight) the guide continued to manoeuvre us through the biggest of the grade 3+ rapids. It was so much fun! Just as night fell we pulled ashore shivering in the torrential rain but warmed by the adrenalin of the experience.

On the second day we woke to glorious sunshine and began a pleasant trek that followed along the swollen river. We stopped along the way to eat mangos from the trees and have the colourful juice of a berry painted onto our faces-very Inka.

As the track progressively rose we puffed our way to the monkey house where we had a midmorning break. Here we relaxed in hammocks, feed the monkey, heard the history of coca leaves which included taking part in a ceremony (my whole mouth went numb for 20 minutes) and dressed up in traditional Peruvian clothing. It was a lot of fun and very educational.

The next part of our trek took us high into the mountainside. The steep narrow steps wound around the grassy slopes providing unbelievable views of the entire gully.

By the time we had lunch it was after 4pm and we were all ravenous. Here we were also told that due to another major landslide blocking the track we would all have to pay for a bus to pick us up. This was disappointing as we had wished to trek further, but nature had its way.
On our drive to Santa Teresa, where we would be staying the night, we came across another landslide. As the bus pulled up it became apparent that no one would be passing this one with large boulders falling at speed the diggers were not even attempting to clear it and we were basically cut off from the town as nightfall was gathering. Other tour groups were in the same predicament so in an effort to avoid sleeping the night on the road approximately 50 of us began to scale down the steep mountainside and were soon to realise that half way down we could go no further. Some crazy locals decided this was good enough for them and proceeded to bush-bash/roll down the hill directly across the path of flying boulders. We all made the decision at that point that we would rather sleep on the road in the rain than do this. One of the more intelligent guides came up with the obvious solution of trekking toward the river in a less steep direction. So we continued on and just as night fell we reached the bottom of the gully to be greeted by the raging river. Thankfully some of us had torches as we all scrambled along the banks of the river and then directly upwards on a track to the town. By this stage it was pitch black and everyone had run out of water but we pushed through on adrenalin and were absolutely exhausted by the time we reached the road and walked into town. The sense of relief was huge amongst the group that evening. 12 hours of trekking had taken its toll!
Day three we woke to another sunny day. With sore muscles we began our trek to the hydro-electric plant located further along the river. We had a pleasant 3 hour trek in the drizzle to our lunchtime destination.

After lunch Cam convinced the guide to break us off into a fast group and to leave the slower ones behind! We followed the railway lines all the way to Aguas Calientes, the base town for Machupicchu and arrived a full hour before the slow group. Another 7 hour day of walking, we were more than happy to have our first hot shower of the trip and enjoy our own dorm rooms. That evening we had a late dinner and were prepped for the following day. At last we were to see the legendary Machupicchu.

The following morning we left our hotel at 4 am and proceeded to the bottom of the hill before Machupicchu. The walking bridge opens at 5 am where hoards of people race up the rather tortuous hill as dawn begins to break. Alternatively some choose to bus up the hill, it was discouraging to hear the bus pass on the nearby road as we huffed and puffed. We consoled ourselves with the stunning misty views and sense of achievement when we made it to the top.

This early morning effort is about reaching the gate for the 6am opening as the first 400 people to pass through the entrance receive tickets to Huaynapicchu, the nearby mountain that provides a view of Machpicchu itself.
We made it with numbers 70 and 71 through the gate, what a relief! Once inside we did a 2 hour guided tour of this ancient rediscovered city. We heard about the building techniques of the Incas and that their mastery cannot be recreated today. Upon close inspection it is amazing to see the precise cutting of the concrete blocks and the natural cement that has kept them together since the 1500s.

After a much needed refuelling we began the climb of Huaynapicchu, the 45 minute up-hill climb produced the highlight of the tour and perhaps our whole trip. The views were just amazing, we were amongst the clouds and could do no more than sit in silence and appreciate.

With aching muscles and our bags full of wet filthy clothes we headed back to Cusco later that evening via train and then bus. We arrived at our hotel after midnight and could barely crawl out of bed the next day to change our bus to stay another night. Hard going but rewarding all the same.
On Monday we had a day of pampering including massages, hair cut and colour and delicious food to build back our strength.
Monday evening in the torrential rain we farewell wintery Cusco and board our bus for Arequipa.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Victor's House Project - Profiled on PSF Website

If you wish to read more about Victor's project and examples of other PSF projects, check out: