Many buses, and a canyon

So, we arrive in Chanaral on the 29 Aug.  Ben is interested in some national park.  Called Pan de Azucar.  That’s sugarloaf.  I saw Sugarloaf in Rio, and can’t imagine Chile having anything better than the cable car where Jaws went a little too fast chasing James Bond.  But, I humour him.  We spend some time in Chanaral recovering from the bus trip, and then eventually find somebody to drive us to this national park.  Well – I negotiate with a hot-dog trailer woman about it, until Ben joins me; while Pen is talked to/at by the crazy drunk local guy.  Drive for a while to this park.  Park is closed.  Turn around, and pay the price for a taxi ride there and back.  Saw a nice-ish beach, and some (a lot of) cactus which looked like bags of onions, or horse-shit.  Back to town, and we start looking for dinner.  Spot crazy drunk local guy, before he spots us, and we use the old “hide behind a parked truck, and then start running along when the truck starts moving” trick.  Millenium Tower on the hill – but we have our packs.  Can’t be bothered climbing the stairs.  Instead – some seafood for first dinner, then chinese for second dinner.  Awful, awful chinese.  Ben, of course, whinges more than anybody else.  More gripping than Stephen King.  Back to bus station, and back on a bus.

30 Aug, arrive in Arica.  We have 8,650 chilean pesos, or something like that.  Discover the trip over the border to Peru will cost us 9,000.  But – the nice man says “no problemo”.  So – no problemo.  Get in a big old yank-tank with a couple of local girls, and we drive across the border.  Remember at this point that we were meaning to check on rumours that the recent earthquake had made travel impossible.  Ah well, we’ll find out.  Chilean border – huge queues.  Waiting for ages.  Finally get through, then onto Peruvian migration.  Not a soul.  Get to Tacna in Peru, and search for an ATM.  First one has a coin stuck in the card slot.  Ben meets some nice chaps who give him a sip of their beer.  Then, they start trying to sell us bus tickets.  And drugs of various sorts.  Eventually get rid of them – and manage to buy ourselves yet another nice relaxing bus trip.  Short one this time, only 5 or so hours.  So, we get to Arequipa late at night – completely buggered after not having slept in a bed since Rapa Nui.  Long time ago.  Taxi driver takes us to a hotel where he obviously gets a commission.  Ben & Pen stay in taxi while I do the talking.  Not much point – they could have offered me couch cushions on a floor in the basement – and I would have paid a fair bit for it.  Then – dinner time.  And, struggling to find anywhere else rather late at night – we splash out at a fairly pricey place.  Guinea pig.  One of the things both Ben & I had been looking forward to.  And, it lived up to expectations.  Presentation was beautiful.  Good ol’ guinea pig.  Yum.

31 Aug – we sleep in as much as I’ll let the two hindrances.  Not sure what time checkout is, but don’t want to risk being asked to pay for another night.  But, chap is pleasant enough, and we manage to leave in time for lunch.  Which we call breakfast, and satisfy with a couple of hours at a juice bar, drinking a lot of juice, popping spirulina pills, and eating stuff.  Then, admire the Arequipa central plaza once more (awesome plaza.  Awesome at night, awesome at day.  Well done Arequipa.) – and catch taxi to bus station.  Next bus to Chivay.

Chivay – tiny village, dust streets, tuk-tuks.  Nice.  Very nice.  Touts for hostels.  One woman follows us to town, chatting whole way.  Go through stages of interest, annoyed, very very annoyed, pity, very very annoyed.  Opt for other tout who immediately stops spiel when I tell him I already have his brochure.  Turns out to be a very nice spot.  With annoying woman tout sitting on doorstep outside waiting for us.  Creepy.  But, we stay with our choice – and girl at counter gives us heaps of advice on getting to the main nearby attraction.  Colca Canyon.  Big canyon.  Condors.  Early morning start.  As a big man once said, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad.  We have dinner in town, and discover irish bar.  Empty.  Walls covered in graffiti.  Abnormal percentage of New Zealand representation.  Including, once again, the first piece on the ceiling.  Next bar – has music videos on the TV.  Ben doesn’t like them, so we have to go home.  That, and we think we have to get up at 4am.  And Christopher Lloyd is sitting opposite us.  However, when we get back to the hostel, a chap who speaks a little english explains that we actually have to be up at 3:30.

01 Sep, 3:30am.  Not cool.  But, we manage to get up.  Worst thing about needing to get up early is the paranoia.  So, I spent most of the night awake, checking the time constantly.  We walk to the bus station, and hope we’ve got the right info.  I start to get the idea that this type of thing would be an excellent local joke to play on tourists.  But, turns out that it’s the real deal.  We get to the station just in time to buy a couple of cups of takeaway coca teas, then get on the bus.  Very, very bumpy ride for a few hours.  Sitting on back seat, and we’re all airborne several times.  6am, arrive at the main viewpoint.  Big canyon.  Twice the size of the Grand Canyon?  But I’m not sure what they mean by “size”.  Big though.  Go for a walk.  See some hummingbirds.  Try to take photos of hummingbirds.  Much cursing ensues.  Very fast moving bird, the hummingbird.  After a couple of hours, we head back towards the main viewing platform.  Hungry – and had seen local ladies setting themselves up to sell food.  On the way, notice that the tour groups had started arriving.  Muchos gringos.  Then – condors.  Cool.  Hunger and toilet requirements are forgotten for quite some time, as we watch condors, and try to take photos.  A photo of a condor is much easier to achieve than one of an ‘ummingbird – but still fairly frustrating.  Condors can be rather large.  And rather playful.  After a while, we got our fill of nearly-photos, and a few successful photos.  Then started on the silliness.  The viewpoint is called Cruz del Condor.  And there is a crucifix (cruz) on a rock.  Lots of tourists getting photos next to it.  So, I line up, help the previous girls climb down the rock, then pose ‘with’ the crucifix.  Ben takes a few photos, then I jump down as quick as possible, ready to run for my life.  But – no religious outcry.  Sweet.  By this time, not even noon, we’re all sunburnt and tired.  Bus back to town.  Then, buy ticket back to Arequipa, and have some food and drinks.  Bus to Arequipa.

Arequipa – we figure there will be lots of buses to Cusco, at various times.  There are lots of buses.  All at the same time.  8pm – and it is 7:30 when we start researching this.  But – a huge pat on the back when we find one at 8:30.  Apparently very comfortable (I ask if it is “full cama” – the best class – and the lady shows us photos of the seats.  Avoiding the question, I later realise), and much cheaper than usual.  I watch her manually type in a price of 40 for each seat, over top of the default price of 90.  Sweet.  And – we can drop off our luggage now.  Very pleased with ourselves, we drop our bags off, then find a food stall.  Sit and chat with the owner.  Lovely lady – rather taken by Kruse.  Is willing to settle for Ben when I admit that the blonde with us is my girlfriend.  At a stretch.  We enjoy some food – buy some blue Powerade, and a slice of cake.  8:20 – head to the bus platform.  Sit, wait.  Platform is outside of the ticket office.  8:30, lights in ticket office go out.  Not good.  I run inside – and ticket office is closed.  Where are our bags?  Panic.  Ask at the info office – somehow breathless bad spanish works.  The girl asks a security guard to help us.  He says something about the other bus terminal (which is next door).  We grab our remaining stuff and run.  Run past the barrier arm at other terminal – forcing security guard to chase us – as we see our bus just backing out.  Manage to explain things (maybe), and all is good.  Figure out the situation was:  8:30 was departure time from 2nd terminal.  Bus left from OUR terminal at 8.  So, at 8pm, our luggage was loaded while I was being chatted up by food stall lady.  Anyway, we made it.  Barely – unbelievable close to losing all our luggage.  Then – the ticket office lady had randomly assigned seats to each of us from the three I’d specified.  Usually, Pen & I would be together, with Ben stuck next to a snoring local.  This time, I was the loner.  And this time, the only free seat near a double seat was at the back.  And next to the bus ‘attendant’.  And apparently, the bus attendant needs far less legroom than the clients.  And therefore the seat next to him inherits the same.  And suddenly, what had seemed like the best bus IN THE WORLD only one hour previously, had – for Kruse – turned into the worst.  And, when I try to recline my seat, realise there is a bag of something directly behind my seat.  Can’t recline at all.  While Ben is sitting opposite me, with decent legroom, and his arm around my girlfriend.  Not happy.  Awful food is then provided.  I cheer up a little when Nick Nolte appears on the television.  Unfortunately, not a great movie.  Certainly not being a riot as a homeless man who insinuates himself into the household of a neurotic yuppie couple when they save him from drowning in their pool.  But, it distracts me for a while, until I realise that the package has been moved from behind my seat – and I can recline.  And try to sleep.  Still not so good – waking up in Cusco with bruises all over my legs from insufficent room.

But anyway, I’m starting to sound like Ben.  Next update – first night in Cusco is drunk.  Very very drunk.  And, by then, I will have been to Macchu Picchu.  That update will be a little while off, as we have to walk for 4 days to get there.  Starting at 5am tomorrow.  t is now past midnight.  I am still awake trying to finish my box of red wine (mixed with Inka Cola).  Pen demanded that I go buy some medicine for her this evening.  And Ben hired a porter to carry most of his stuff – that much of a senorita is he.  (Has been teased by several locals already.  Colby – you must remember to tell Ben to “Come on!” next time he tries to not order a beer.)

More Rapa Nui

27 Aug is not as hungover as 26.  Not at all so, in fact.  Travelling with a Bender who never drinks two days in a row is very much an hindrance.  Still, we don’t manage to leave for quite some time.  Driving around town a lot looking for breakfast.  Town’s not that large, but still wasted a fair bit of time.  Both hindrances (Ben & Pen) had specific ideas for what they wanted.  And I wanted some salami to complement our bag of ingredients for a packed lunch.  Eventually we got away though, and started the long southern coast circuit.  Lots of big stone heads.  Most of these ones haven’t been restored, so we saw heaps that were toppled over.  Still impressive, and still makes one wonder “Why?”.  Well – Ben was wondering “Where?” – although he could see the answer to that in front of him.  Idjit.

Quite a few toppled big bloody stone heads, at various points – and then the main quarry, where they carved the actual heads.  (Think I mentioned we saw the quarry where they made the red ‘hats’ yesterday.)  Get out of the car, and exclamations of awe are immediately forthcoming.  The first thing you see is dozens and dozens of big bloody rock heads.  Maybe waiting to be taken to their intended places along the coast, or maybe intentionally ‘guarding’ the quarry?  Mysterious.  Walk up the hill, and then start seeing the ones which were only partially carved out of the mountain.  It is immediately obvious that however crazy these guys were at the start – they’d completely lost the plot by the end.  The size of some of the ones which had nearly been finished was ridiculous.  Nutters.  Walk around the quarry some more – plenty of unfinished big rock heads.  Pen finds her favourite one, while Ben & I take far more photos than really necessary.  But – it is rather hard to resist.  Like the Great Wall – every minute or so you see something which makes you say something you wouldn’t say in front of your mother.  Big fecking rock heads.

After the quarry, we head to a spot we’ve seen from the top of the quarry/hill.  15 big bloody stone heads standing in a row.  And they look very big.  We head there – and sure enough, there’s 15 big bloody stone heads in a row on a single platform.  And they are very big.  Good spot for lunch, we reckon.  So – we have lunch, and I figure out the “Why?” question that has baffled archeologists for so long.  The big bloody rock heads were obviously placed as windbreaks.  Mystery solved, we finish lunch, and take some cheesy photographs, artistic photographs, and plain boring “could get this photo much easier and better quality from the internet” photographs.  All to add to some of our inappropriate and culturally insensitive photographs taken over the last two days.  (Once I finally get around to catching up on the photo uploading thing, please forgive some of the photographs.)

After that, we see one or two more sites with toppled moai, and then get to the only safe swimming beach on the island.  And it’s pretty.  A sandy cove, with the sandy valley making it’s way up to solid ground – where a group of moai stand guarding the beach.  The clouds come over just as we get there, and by the time we’ve taken photos of the place, it has become fairly cold.  But there is no way that I’m going to miss a chance to swim on Easter Island.  Water is bloody cold, and there is heaps of seaweed (which always gives me the Fear – something brushing against my legs in the ocean nearly makes me do pissy-pants every single time), but the cold quickly dissipates, and I am able to watch with enjoyment as Ben slowly makes his way in, with several expletives escaping his mouth on the way.  Good solid swim, with some decent size waves once in a while, and no sharks-riding-on-an-elephant’s-back attacking either of us – then we drive back to town.  Then, we put the roast on.  Have a few drinks – then go see some of the moai which are lit up at night time.  Back to hostel, and have ourselves a delicious roast, followed by pisco jelly.  American staying at same hostel got chatty with Pen during cooking time – and has been invited to join us in the jelly.  Ben & I sit and try to hold our tongues as this seppo talks inanely on and on.  Doesn’t know who Barack Obama is.  “I don’t really know anything about that stuff at all.  My father follows it all, and researches stuff.  So I just trust him.”  Another piece in the puzzle of another mystery (”How did W Bush get in TWICE?”).  Ben & I stay up for a while longer, after fetching some cerveza – and make an excellent list.  Struggle to understand most of it later – but it is all pure gold.

28 Aug, time to leave.  We pay the nice lady, pack our stuff into the trusty ‘geep’, and check in at the airport – several hours early.  Get rid of the luggage though, and then drop off the geep with another nice lady.  Walk to the museum, touted in the guide book as the largest open air museum IN THE WORLD!  We get there, and the museum is small, and all indoors.  Odd.  Maybe they’ve labelled the entire island as a museum.  Museum is fairly informative – but I get a little offended at claims that the Rapa Nui people were related to the Maori.  These guys were absolute nutters.  Then, I figure it out.  Easter Island was the insane asylum for the Pacific.  The similarities in language, and sudden emergence of weapons similar to taiaha; along with the big bloody stone heads, and the Birdman cult – it all fits together.

After the museum, back to the airport.  Get there, and watch with disbelief as the people form a huge queue to board the plane.  The only plane in the airport.  Not really much need to queue.  So, we sit down, wait for the queue to vanish – and then walk through, and board the plane.  Sitting together this time, and Pen’s curse of always having a faulty entertainment unit has been broken.  I soon regret this though, when I run out of things to do/watch – and finally resign myself to checking out what all this kuffufle about “24″ has been.  Watch 3 episodes, and am not particularly upset when the system is turned off for landing.

So, back in Santiago.  Catch the airport bus to a long-distance bus station, and then let a very helpful, very informative, very annoying seppo help us buy bus tickets.  He had a list of loyalty card numbers – so we got discounts, and I assume he got some kind of bonus points.  A quick meal (reminding me again that we must start buying only two meals to share), and then onto the bus.

That’s all for now.  The next update will be extremely boring – unless I can force myself into brevity.  But, to let the family and other such folk know – we are now in Cusco, Peru.

Rapa Nui

25 Aug – we get up early.  I dislike getting up early.  But, I figure it is worth it to go to Rapa Nui.  Bus to airport, and a quick breakfast at a cafe called “ARS” (juvenile snort chuckle).  During breakfast, we experiment on the best way to eat the rather large and messy burgers they serve here.  Each person with a different method.  I think my civilised use of cutlery was the loser.  But, my lack of appetite due to over-exposure to alcohol last night may have hindered my efforts.  Take note, All Blacks.

But – onto plane.  All sitting seperately.  Pen again gets a faulty entertainment unit, and an australian couple next to her who ask three different air stewardesses to fix it.  Ben gets an english couple, and decides not to talk to them when glancing across to see the music playlist set up by the girl.  I sit next to a woman who is just plain annoying.  And chats to me.  I hate that.

Arrive on Rapa Nui.  Airport is exactly as you’d expect/want from a small island airport.  Walk across runway, past palmtrees, into tiny airport.  Big bloody stone head outside.  Cool.   Walk through touts, and take name of one hostel cheaper than the rest.  Ignore offers of free transfers, and walk to town.  Find the cheap hostel, and check in there.  Basic, but cheap.  And price rises a bit when we ask if we can use the kitchen.  Oh well.  Then, a walk to and along shore.  Big bloody stone head.  Very expensive restaurants.  Big stone head that looks a little tard-like.  Well, very tard-like.  Boggly eyes too.  Lunch at a small relatively cheap place.  Back to hostel, and then Ben & I head to the supermarket for supplies.  Going to cook at home.  Stop at a bar on the way back.  Cocktails.  Pen eventually comes to find us.  She takes the groceries home, then joins us.  After quite some time, a local man starts calling Pen “Princess”.  Rather smitten.  We decide to leave, and weave our way home.  Cook ourselves some dinner, and drink some wine.  Pen’s new boyfriend turns up, walking into the hostel with a flower for Pen.  Creepy.  We somehow convince him to leave.  Then, Ben (of all people) wants more pub.  So, we leave Pen – and head to the pub.  Just notice Pen’s boyfriend staggering around the back of the hostel.  Follow him, and have the “friendly-menacing” chat.  Walk him back to the bar, and sit down with him for some drinks.  One girl warns us off a certain bar.  After a little while, we leave.  And head straight to the other bar.  Well, straight there after getting a little lost.  Walk in – and turn a few heads.  Have a few beers, chat to a few locals, until Ben’s head droops onto the table.  I think maybe he’s pretending to be sleeping to get rid of the local chap trying to give/sell us the marijuana.  But – after local leaves, I struggle to get him awake.  For a moment, I declare him clinically dead, and am a little worried.  I’d forgotten his love of falling asleep at bars.  Anyway, I manage to wake him – and we head home.

Just in time for 3 or 4 hours sleep before getting up on 26 Aug, to go get our rental car.  Well – 4WD Suzuki thing.  Leave a little later than we expected.  Find a big bloody stone head.  Not knowing protocol, we climb up onto the platform, and are sitting on the platform drinking chocolate milk when locals start yelling at us.  We head off quickly, and read our map which explicitly states this is bad.  Drive to somewhere with a touristy sign.  Look at some stone circles used to grow crops in.  Boring.  See a track.  Follow it, up a hill.  Long way up a hill.  At top – there is a road.  We could have driven up.  Not happy.  But – nice view of a crater.  Pretty.  Then, the old village of Orongo.  Houses, etc.  View of where the fellows used to swim out to an island – and the first one to get a certain egg and return with it was named as the Bird Man for that year.  This was at the end of the civilisation – when the locals started to get even more crazy with their original “Let’s build big feking stone heads” religion.

Anyway, walked all the way back down to our geep (avoiding copyright issues).  Then, back to town to use a safe toilet, and have some lunch.  And plenty of water & b-b-bounce.  Still feeling seedy, headed up the west coast.  Big bloody stone heads.  A fair few of them.  By themselves, and lined up on platforms together.  All big.  All bloody.  All stone.  All heads.  Nutters.  Finish the loop of the west coast with the quarry where they made the ‘hats’ for the big bloody stone heads.  Different colour rock.  For hats.  Absolute nutters.  Back to town, and feeling good again.  Go watch the sun set over a group of 4 big bloody stone heads.  Then, find a restaurant, and have dinner.  Rape rape – a type of small lobster.

Old Haunts – San Rafael, Mendoza, Santiago

20 Aug – managed to get up, and leave our odd host.  Leave a note, hide the key, and go to the bus station.  Finally find a bus heading in the direction we want.  End up in a big airport-like bus station in a place called Neuquen.  Get some food, and then try to find another bus to take us further.  Find a bus to San Rafael – sweet.  Then, a couple of hours sitting at a bar.  Me teaching Pen some spanish – including how to say “not american” – rather more loudly than necessary, for benefit of other patrons.  Finally get on the bus, and we’re served a hot meal.  Sweet.  Not sitting together though.  I sit directly behind Pen, and made use of her big mess of hair blocking the lights to get some sleep.

Arrived in San Rafael the morning of 21 Aug.  Grab some breakfast and then return to the hotel I stayed at last time.  Get ourselves a room – and I hurry to make use of the decent shower I remembered existing.  Then, a bit of a walk around town.  Lunch at the cafe/bar where I’d met the french woman last time.  Then, a walk to find the plaza I wanted to visit last time, when I instead sat at a cafe/bar drinking beer with a frenchie for several hours.  Plaza is currently closed for renovations.  Fair enough, as the small portion not behind hoardings contained several broken statues and benches.  Next – to a huge park on the map.  Walk along the old railway tracks, and a crappy old dead thorn goes right through my boot into my foot.  Not sweet.  Big park turns out to contain nothing interesting.  So, walk back.  All the way to the other end of town for some wineries.  Drink a bottle at a restaurant while waiting for siesta to finish – then to the bodega I couldn’t find last time.  This time, we are given a clue to the location by a huge sign, which probably existed last time – right where I’d walked past many many times.  Nice enough tour of the bodega – with just us, by the guide who spoke english.  Rather small place – with very old machinery.  Then, a tasting, and we buy a red and a champagne.  Back to hostel, and drop that off.  Dinner time – but the best parrillada in town is closed.  Instead we find a tiny cafe, and eat while watching the little girls at next table play with an automatic hair-plaiting machine.  Looked dangerous.  Back to hostel, and drink the day’s purchases.

Up on the 22 Aug, and check out.  Straight to the bus station, and get the next bus to Mendoza.  Two guys also waiting – one chats to Pen while I’m away.  Argy who’d lived in NZ for a while.  The other chap is a kiwi – but doesn’t seem interested in even saying hello.  Argy only gives above information, and withdraws also.  They get on same bus, nearly opposite us – but still no attempt of chit-chat.  We reciprocate.  Get to Mendoza, and look for a bus to Santiago.  Turns out we’re barely too late for the last one.  So, walk to the hostel I’d wanted to stay at last time.  With free wine.  This time – they have space available.  So, we check in – then go get some food.  Sitting on pavement, listening to rush hour traffic.  They love to use their horns.  Back to hostel, and make friends with the two dogs living there.  One is a puppy which turned up on doorstep only a couple of days ago.  Owner isn’t happy about it, but took it in as it was nearly dead.  Trying to give it to any backpacker stupid enough to take it.  Free wine comes out, along with some ‘cocktail’ the owner was given by somebody.  Not too much wine – just one or two bottles – and it’s gone pretty quickly.  So, then a few beers – and pretty much just wasting time until a decent hour for bed.  Bed is in a dorm – first time for quite a while.

23 Aug – get up, and check out.  Then more wasting of time until it’s time to go to the bus station.  Catch a bus to Santiago with a very small company.  Migration/customs goes without a hitch, despite my having a tin of yerba mate which I suspect shouldn’t be taken into Chile.  We get to Santiago, and cross the road from the bus terminal to a hostel.  Book ourselves a three-bed room in preparation for Ben’s arrival tomorrow.  Then, book ourselves into the hostel’s BBQ that night.  But – very hungry, so go to get some meantime food.  Drink some wine also, and watch/hear 1980’s music videos.  Back to hostel, and our expensive BBQ.  Wine provided.  Sit at a table with two English guys.  Chit-chat.  Pen is already rather intoxicated, and swears like a trooper from the outset, while I try to figure out how to subtly tell her that this is a bad idea until one knows the other person a little more.  Then one of the guys mentions his father the priest.  My unlikely fear seems to have come true.  But then he immediately reassures that he himself is not a Jeebers-type.  So, no harm done – I think.  A large loud group of french teenagers are at other table.  Annoying, but we cope with the aid of wine.  One french woman grabs the bottle off our table – so we have to resort to some wine cooler I’d bought earlier.  Then, with chit-chat still going strong, onto some beers.  Run out of beers, and go find a supermarket.  But – closed.  Find a restaurant, and buy cerveza over the counter.  Not long later, back in a dry predicament.  Again to a restaurant, and again buy fresh supplies.  Eventually we’re all sated – and off to bed.  With far more alcohol in the body than I’d planned.  Wanted to be nice and fresh-faced for meeting Ben at the airport, of course.

But, sure enough, wake up on the 24 Aug feeling less than chirpy.  Battle through, and head to airport.  Have told Ben that if I’m not at arrivals, which bar to head to.  Pen & I opt for ignoring the arrivals, and just waiting at bar.  Have my first Bloody Mary in a long long time.  Not the best, and no celery stick.  Then, onto pisco sours.  Several pisco sours later – Ben arrives.  With man in suit and ID card carrying his bag.  I’m not sure if I’m worried or amused – probably a fair bit of both.  They get closer – and the man is a taxi driver.  The concern disappears, leaving only amusement.  I’d specifically told Ben to ignore all the taxi drivers that would yell at him, but it appeared he’d failed.  Not really sure what had happened, but the taxi driver left without insisting on money.  Hovered for a while, obviously expecting something – but left before I got around to asking Ben if the guy deserved money or not.  One more round of pisco sours, then catch the bus to town.  Get to hostel, and then off for some food.  Food and wines.  Then – a supermarket to buy some wine for Rapa Nui, as everything is reputedly rather expensive there.  Hostel – and drink some wine until Ben can’t stay awake any longer.  I go and get some beer – but halfway through one bottle, I can’t stay awake any longer either.

Next update – Rapa Nui.  Easter Island.  Isla de Pascua.  With moai.  Or, as they are usually called, Big F&%$ing Stone Heads.  Sweet.

San Carlos de Bariloche, San Martin de Los Andes

Yep – two big longwinded names.  Usually shortened to Bariloche & San Martin.  But, in order to make myself and another uneventful update seem more important – I’ve used the more important sounding full names.

But – to get there, first we had to wake up on time on the 16 Aug.  Success.  Breakfast, then off to the bus station.  Buy our tickets, and manage to get on a bus to Argentina.  Nice comfortable bus for the crossing of Andes.  Migration formalities – Argy chap notices the NZ passport, and we chat about sport for a little bit.  Is stoked when I show that I’m wearing an All Blacks top between my two layers of Icebreaker merino warm goodness.

Get to Bariloche, and have to make a choice between one of two touts, or walking to town.  Choose the tout with cabins out of town, and a free ride.  Get there – and discover our own little self-contained cabin.  Sweet – supermarket for some wine and platter-type snacks.  Without the girlfriend, I’d have probably bought some beer and found a bus stop to drink it in.  Girlfriends are such a hindrance.  Then – to a restaurant.  A parilla (barbeque, pretty much), where we seemed to have ordered just a simple selection of meat for two – but they keep bringing it until we beg for mercy.  Dog outside introduces itself, and then follows us all the way to the door of our cabin.  Doesn’t seem to expect an invitation inside, but would certainly like one.  Doesn’t get one.  More wine.

17 Aug – a decent sleep-in.  And then up to a private residence, with our own choice of breakfast, and snow outside.  Without the girlfriend – would have been woken early in crowded dorm room in town, with more  bread and jam for breakfast.  Hindrance.  5km walk to town along lakefront.  Big lake, with the Andes on the far side.  Alright to look at, I guess.  Get to town, and manage to get us some Argy currency.  Lunch – and a quick game of friendly chess.  Then – the chocolate museum.  Quick run through, history of and the such – before rushing back to pay the nice tout for our cabin.  Arrive at the later end of the time window I’d agreed with him – so I send Pen (with next to no Spanish) to deal with him, while I hide in the supermarket buying booze.  Anybody would’ve done the same thing.  Then – same restaurant as last night – this time for some lamb & trout.  Rather tasty.  Back to cabin – and try to drink as much of the booze I’d bought as possible.  I’d stocked up for the Argy vs Wales rugby in the morning, but Pen discovered we had to leave at 10am – same time as the game starts.

18 Aug – up and out the door.  Cleaner arrived at exactly 10am, thwarting my ideas of taking advantage of the legendary south american tardiness.  So instead we manage to find a bus into the town centre.  Bariloche town centre is like Queenstown would be if the council found several million dollars and did up everything to look “Alpsy”.  Tacky alpsy buildings everywhere, being used by tacky alpsy ski-nerds.  But – manage to find a restaurant/bar with the Argys and Welsh on – and we steal a booth, pile up the bags, and I settle in with a beer.  Pen goes to do girly stuff.  Internet or something.

Then, enough time for lunch at a typically expensive restaurant.  But – they had wild venison and boar on the menu – so I insisted.  Scoffed that down, then a quick taxi to bus terminal in time to catch the bus to San Martin.  San Martin is a much quieter, much more relaxed, much smaller, and much less wanky version of Bariloche.  Still a few skiers about, it seems, but they seem to be actually skiing during the day, rather than walking around town.  No St Bernard dogs & puppies to pose for photos with either.  Again, we opt for a tout at the bus station.  18 pesos, he reckons.  That is a ridiculous bargain, and we jump at it.  He says there’s two rooms – and a New Zealand couple in the other.  I figure he’s got it wrong, and just repeating our country as it was the last country name he’d heard.  We get there – and there is indeed a NZ girl, with an irish boyfriend.  Tout had cycled ahead of us to brew up some tea – but got waylaid by kiwi&oirish for directions.  So, we sit at table and listen to directions and stuff, then all 4 tourists have a nice cuppa tea together while tout goes back to his day job.  After much chit-chat, it’s nearly time for dinner.  Pen & I go to the supermarket to make sure we’ve got wine for later, and check out restaurants on the way – while other couple clean themselves up.  Then – we go out to dinner together.  More chit-chat.  Back to hostel (actually more of a bed&breakfast – Pen&I on mezzanine floor over lounge, other couple in a bedroom – and then there’s a kitchen and bathroom).  Sit down, and more wines and chit-chat.  Then we realise that the tout normally sleeps in either the bedroom or the mezzanine floor.  But – with this windfall of tourists today – has set up a stretcher in the kitchen.  Rather uncomfortable.  Not the stretcher – stretcher looked sweet, despite barely fitting into the kitchen.  But the situation certainly was rather uncomfortable for a little while – until the tout/owner started snoring, and we got some more wine into us.  Stayed up until 1 or 2am chatting.

Therefore, slept in considerably on 19 Aug.  I felt a little guilty getting up not long before noon (probably from owners bed) – just in time for him to return for his lunch break and notice his carefully laid breakfast table untouched.  But, then the other couple got up about an hour later.  We then went for a walk – with some directions the owner had given me.  And me nodding along, understanding one word once in a while.  But, I must have exhibited enough confidence for three suckers to trust me – and we managed to find our way to the top of a hill.  Nice view of the town, and then a nice view of the lake.  Nice.  Back to town, and the sickening double-date system splits into two sickening couple systems.  Others go researching rental bikes, while we research buses onwards.  Then, wandering around restaurants – checking out menus and prices until we’re hungry enough to actually eat.  By then, however, it’s after 4pm – and restaurants are closed.  Find a typical plastic-ish fast food joint, and get some cheap food – not completely crap.  After paying for that, realise we’ve got enough for paying the accommodation, and another 12 pesos.  Try one ATM – out of cash.  Another – don’t bother as it only has the “Link” symbol.  Back to ‘hostel’, where the owner is getting the fireplace ready for some old-fashioned heating.  Sweet.  Give him nearly all remaining money, and figure it’s a good excuse to eat at relatively expensive restaurant – as they’ll accept Visa.  But – other couple returns with success story of ATM.  And open fire is pretty cool.  Go to supermarket, confirm they accept Visa – and get some easy food, and wine.  Then – actually attempt the ATM with only Link symbol.  Easy cash – sweet.  Back to hostel to eat some ravioli, drink quite a lot of wine, and sit around fire listening to some kiwi tunes.

Also – don’t worry Colby folk.  Bem will be quite safe with me.  I realise that he now drinks like a little girl, and has only recently had the Gay surgically removed (successfully?… only time will tell) – so I will take extra special care.  All of you who met me know how seriously I take health issues – and I promise I’ll force Bem into even more R&R than I myself partook in while in your charming hamlet.

Valdivia, & nearly Argentina

Sorry Bob & Nathan – but hopefully this and future news will be back to the action-packed thrill-ride updates you’ve obviously grown to expect.

Starting with 12 Aug, when we managed to get up on time to check-out.  Check-out time being 1pm, that shouldn’t be difficult – but I managed to fail on my equivalent day back in March.  Checked out, and put our stuff into storage.  Central Santiago for lunch, and a museum.  Best museum in Chile?  Don’t think so.  More wandering, then some red wine at the hostel.  Tour guide chap tried to talk me into a one week organised bus trip.  And that it is difficult to cross into Argentina down south.  Not many roads, and much snow.  I ignored his advice.  Then – dinner time.  Discovered a Viking-themed restaurant.  Sweet.  And, we were given viking hats to wear.  Pen’s with fake pigtails.  And, the mariachi at another table started playing Crowded House, I’m pretty sure.  Finished dinner, then back to hostel – picked up our stuff, and found our way to the bus station.  Bought some tickets, had a couple of beers, and got onto our Salon Cama class bus.  The most luxurious class – and was actually pretty sweet.  Not particularly good food though – and no free wine or whiskey.  Getting back to Argentina is going to be so sweet.

13 Aug – arrived in Valdivia.  Listened to a tout trying to sell us a room in one of her two hostels.  Ushered us outside, as she’s not allowed to show photos inside the terminal.  Took her pamphlet (with useful city map), and started walking.  Eventually found centre of town, and headed to the tout’s hostel.  The one ages away, not a hundred meters away from bus terminal.  Got there, and got us a room.  Kitchenette consisting of a microwave.  Sweet.  Then, back to town.  Had lunch, and a walk.  Electronic store where the method of purchase for a rather small item seemed overly complicated.  Choose goods.  Go to cashier.  Pay for goods.  Get receipt.  Go to another counter, swap a copy of receipt for goods.  Still – battling unemployment I guess.  Then, found a secondhand clothing store.  Sweet.  No white linen shirts, but found myself a cotton one instead.  Will do until I find the real thing.  With Pen here, the local ladies shouldn’t be getting close enough to touch me very often anyway.

A couple of beers at a pub, then back to bus station.  Via awful big mall.  Found buses heading towards the Andes for tomorrow.  And info on the local brewery.  Kunstmann.  Got a taxi there – but no tours of the brewery, the museum is closed, and no free tasting.  Dumb.  Buy food and cerveza instead.  Bus back to town, buy some mixers at the supermarket (where premade “drunk kits” are available for NZ$5.  700ml bottle of rum with 1.5l mixer in a plastic bag).  Back to hostel, and drink pisco while watching bad television (in ‘negative’).  Find tiny takeaway joint for dinner.  More pisco.

Up on the 14 Aug, and discover that breakfast is included.   Scoff that, then walk to bus station.  Catch next bus to Panguipulli.  Couple of hours later – we’re there.   Like magic.  Have some lunch across the road, then book a ticket to Puerto Fuy.  Where hopefully there is a ferry across a picturesque lake to Argentina.  Or, at least, accommodation.  Supposed to be a very very small settlement.  Cervezas across the road while waiting for bus.  Onto bus.  Very quickly regret the cervezas – as Pen’s inadequate bladder seems to be contagious.  Sleep to forget the pulsating bulging bag of processed beer in my gut.  But, that can’t last.  Get to within 10 minutes of destination, using every trick in the book to prevent pissy-pants, but realise 10 minutes is far too long.  By this stage, however, we’re the only two left on the bus except for one local, and I’ve been reduced to pacing up and down the aisle.  Last chap to get off offers the use of his house toilet (is getting off right outside).  Sold.  Onto Puerto Fuy in considerably more comfort.  Get there – and busman shows us a hostel.  Sweet – village is very very small, but with a few houses doubling as hostels.  Busy season is supposed to be rather busy.

Get ourselves a room, and given linen.  Make own beds – and go for walk.  Ticket office for ferry seems to be closed, and the attached cafe is closed until November.  Ferry is here though.  Lots of snow about.  Find restaurant for dinner.  They tell us no food.  Dozen or so workmen staying there get served food, while we drink cerveza.  Second restaurant – also no food.  Then I gather that there is food if we wait for an hour.  Sold.  Food and cerveza, and more workmen.  This time – 6 of them, who bring a TV out of their own rooms in order that they can watch a soap opera.  Back to hostel, and talk to an elderly-ish chap staying there.  He and owner inform us the ferry doesn’t run until busy season.  Next ferry is in November.  Sweet.  More chit-chat, and reciprocal teaching of language.  Off to our room, where our beds have been remade.  Our skills not up to scratch.  Or they didn’t like me lumping Pen with heaps of crappy wool blankets while grabbing the sweet plush duvet for myself.

Up on the 15 Aug – and breakfast.  Discover that there is only one bus back to Panguipulli – at 3:30pm.  Seems odd, as there were multiple buses going the other way.  And ferry/travel office had a list of more in window.  But, go for walk – and keep an eye on main road into town for proof that our info is wrong.  Not hard to keep an eye on main road from anywhere in ‘town’.  Wander through snow.  Cheesy photos on lakeside.  Cheesy photos of snowfight.  Classy photo of a pig.  After not long, we have literally walked ‘around’ town.  Check out pricey hotel.  Owner or manager there speaks english, reckons there’s a bus at 1pm.  So, back to hostel to wait, with view of road.  1pm comes and goes.  Given fruit and juice by chap there – and the english-language channels are searched for us.  Pen expresses interest in The Addams Family movie.  So I’m subjected to that.  Girlfriends are a hindrance.  After a while, I go looking for whiskey.  No luck.  Instead we head to a ‘restaurant’ with view of where I’ve discovered a bus waiting.  Have a cerveza – figuring just the one won’t result in yesterdays ‘difficulties’.  4pm, the bus leaves, and I soon discover I’m mistaken about just one cerveza.  But, after 20 minutes or so, we have to change buses – and I take the oppurtunity for a quick colouring-in of snow.  Not sufficient though, as I’m forced to take a similar oppurtunity about an hour later while stopping for passengers.  Eventually arrive in Panguipulli with dry pants.  Only way out of here seems to be to go all the way back to Valdivia.  So – book ticket for that, and fail to find anywhere selling hot food.  Yesterday’s restaurant seems to be closed for a private watching of football.  They close the curtains, and the iron gates across door – soon after I ignore the “Closed” sign by trying the locked door.

Bus to Valdivia – arriving in late evening.  Check out times for buses from here direct to Argentina.  Low risk boring approach.  Early in the morning – but we figure if we’re able to get up in time, will do so.  Then, find relatively pricey hotel very close to bus terminal, and jump at the chance – just so we can get some hot food as soon as possible.  Chinese restaurant next door – hot food.  Sweet.  Then, buy some more mixers, and back to hotel room.  Drink the bottle of pisco which is a miniature Moai.  Was meaning to keep it as a gift for somebody, or drink it on Rapanui.  But, last time in Valdivia, discovered the same bottle on sale in the supermarket for about half what I paid for it at the distillery.

Next update – more excitement.  We get up on time, and get a bus to Argentina.  Fleeing the carnage of the earthquake in Peru about a thousand kilometres away.